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Rajasthan Chief Minister clears mercy petition of Pak prisoner Dr Khaleel Chishty

Jun 18, 2011

It's a call to awaken the Indian government's conscience that could save Dr Khaleel Chishty. In an unprecedented step, Justice Markandeya Katju of the Supreme Court, requested Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to release the Pakistani prisoner on "humanitarian grounds" under Article 72.

Pleading that the Pakistani prisoner is 'old and infirm', Justice Katju said, "it will be a disgrace for our country if he dies in jail." And as time is running out for Dr Chishty, he said, "if a pardon is granted it will enhance the prestige of India."

Following Justice Katju's appeal, Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot cleared the mercy plea of Dr Chishty and sent it to the Governor. If the Governor gives his approval, the mercy petition will be cleared.

Dr Chishty had come to Ajmer to see his ailing mother in 1992, but got implicated in a murder case. As the case dragged on for years, he was prevented from returning home. His relatives say he's become a victim of Indo-Pak tensions.

"We are praying to Khwaja sahib that my brother should be released so that he can return home to his wife and children. He is in his final phase of life and we are afraid that he could expire any day," said Jameel Chishty, brother of Dr Khaleel Chishty.

The BJP, meanwhile, reacted sharply to Justice Katju's initiative. In a sign on how ordinary citizens become hostage to Indo-Pak hostilities, the party has linked up Dr Chishty's case with that of Indian prisoner Sarabjit Singh, languishing in a Pakistan jail for years.

"It appears odd that a sitting judge of the Supreme Court, even though in his individual capacity, is talking about the release of a Pakistani prisoner. We would only say this if the government elects to consider that request - certainly, Sarabjit who is detained in Pakistan about whom there is a continuous demand that he should be released, the Government of India should ensure that he too is released," said Ravi shankar Prasad, BJP Spokesperson.

But human rights activists say, 80-year-old Dr Chishty has already suffered a lot. A heart patient for over 30 years, he can't even walk on his own and was carried by others, when he was sent to jail.
Dr Chishty's case raises serious questions about the slow pace of India's judicial system, for it defies all logic why any court should take 19 years to decide a case that makes a man stay away from his county and his family.

Those lobbying for Dr Chishty's release say keeping him in jail makes a mockery of our justice system.

"It's a gross injustice to keep him in jail. If his case had been decided on time and even if he had been given a life sentence, he would have been free by now," said Prem Kishan Sharma, President, PUCL, Rajasthan.

Ironically, even the Supreme Court of Pakistan, has rejected a plea to intervene in Dr Chishty's case, saying its beyond their territorial jurisdiction. Justice Katju's move could, however, prove to be a fresh ray of hope, despite the political games that may yet be played in Dr Chishty's case.