Islamabad:  Leading rights activist Ansar Burney on Friday appealed to President Asif Ali Zardari to convert the death sentence of Indian national Sarabjit Singh, facing gallows on charges of involvement in bomb blasts in Pakistan, to life imprisonment on humanitarian grounds.
   
Noting that Sarabjit had been on death row for nearly 21 years, Burney said in a letter sent to the President that the Indian national's possible hanging should be halted and his death sentence converted to life imprisonment "in the greater interest of humanity, human dignity, justice and human rights".
   
Burney noted that he had submitted several mercy petitions on Sarabjit's behalf to the President. He said any move to hang a prisoner who had already spent such a long time in jail would be tantamount to a "murder of justice".
   
"I would like to mention here that one day in a death cell is equal to one year in a normal jail and that prolonged detention in the worst and inhuman circumstances on death row is, at the very least, cruel treatment and the worst kind of human rights violations...," Burney said in his letter.
   
Burney's request was made against the backdrop of the Indian Supreme Court's order allowing 82-year-old Pakistani national Khalil Chishti to travel back home after being granted bail.
   
Chishti was accused of involvement in the murder of a man during a brawl in Ajmer in April 1992. At the time, he was visiting India to meet relatives. In January last year, Chishti was given life imprisonment after an 18-year trial.
   
The rights activist further contended that Sarabjit, currently being held at Lahore's Kot Lakhpat Jail, was not given a fair trial and was the victim of a case of mistaken identity.
   
"I would like to ask your honour as to where is it (written) in Islam to hang innocents or prisoners of circumstances or those sentenced only because of false witnesses, or those who spent more than life imprisonment?" Burney asked.
   
"I would humbly like to once again ask how a democratic government can hang a person who had already completed a life sentence (in such cruel and inhuman circumstances), which is not less than hell," he said.

Burney asked the President to look into the matter seriously and take "some appropriate decisions within time". Sarabjit, imprisoned since 1990, was given the death sentence under the Army Act for alleged involvement in four bomb blasts that killed 14 people.
   
He submitted a mercy petition to the army chief, but it was rejected with a direction that it should be forwarded to the President. Though Sarabjit was set to be hanged in 2008, Pakistani authorities put off his execution indefinitely after Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani intervened in the matter.
   
His family has said he wandered across the border in an inebriated condition and that he was arrested by Pakistani authorities after being mistaken for another Indian man.

(Agencies)

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