Monday, March 3, 2008

Pakistan frees Indian spy suspect after 35 years

IMAGE: KASHMIR SINGH


Kashmir Singh leaves prison on Monday in Lahore, Pakistan.

Pakistani authorities on Monday freed an Indian man who spent 35 years in prison, most of them on death row, after he was accused of spying.

Kashmir Singh, who is about 60 years old, was released from a prison in the eastern city of Lahore on the order of President Pervez Musharraf, said Javed Latif, superintendent of the Kot Lakhpath prison.

"I am seeing the lights, the hustle and bustle. I feel like I'm in some other world," he told The Associated Press while being driven through Lahore. "Listen, I am laughing. I don't remember the last time I laughed like this."

Singh was to reunite with his family Tuesday on the Indian side of Wagah, the main border crossing between the two countries.

"Tell my family I am joining them tomorrow morning. I am not dead, I got a new life," he said.

Pakistan and India, which have fought three wars in the 60 years since they received independence from Britain, frequently arrest each other's citizens, including many fishermen and others who say they strayed across the border inadvertently.

Many are accused of spying and held for years, usually with no contact with their families, although Singh's case appears extreme.

One letter from family in 24 years
A former policeman from Hoshiarpur town in the Indian state of Punjab who became a trader in electronic goods, Singh was arrested during a business trip to the Pakistani city of Rawalpindi in 1973, said Ansar Burney, Pakistan's minister for human rights.

He was convicted and sentenced to death by a military court in Lahore, but Burney said the government stayed his execution in the late 1970s and that Singh's case then languished. He said some of the paperwork on Singh was missing.

Initially, Singh had been in touch with his family through letters but that contact broke down 24 years ago after he was shifted repeatedly between prisons, Burney said.

He said Singh's "only communication with his family over this time was a single letter that he received from them many years ago."

Burney said in a statement that he had been looking for Singh for quite some time but had been unable to locate him because for the past few years, Singh had been known in prison "by the name of Ibrahim."

Burney said he learned of Singh's identity in December during a visit to his jail and pleaded with Musharraf to grant him clemency on humanitarian grounds. Musharraf "kindly ended his death sentence and issued orders for his release," Burney said.

The minister said he will travel to India on Tuesday to see Singh unite with his wife as well as their two sons and a daughter.

"My real purpose in going with him to India is that when this pair of swans meet after 35 years, I want to capture it with my own eyes," Burney said.

http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/23451567/

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