The fate of Indian prisoner Sarabjit Singh hung by a slender thread as Pakistan's Supreme Court on Wednesday dismissed his review petition challenging the death sentence handed out to him in 1991, leaving him at the mercy of a presidential pardon by Asif Ali Zardari.
Sarabjit's conviction for alleged involvement in four bomb blasts in 1990 that killed 14 people in Pakistan by an anti-terrorism court in 1991 was upheld by a three-member Supreme Court bench led by Justice Raja Fayyaz Ahmed. The bench dismissed 43-year-old Sarabjit's review petition after his counsel again failed to appear in the court and he was convicted, as there was nobody to defend him.
Sarabjit's counsel had failed to appear in the court for the past few hearings, including the last one on Monday.
Rana Abdul Hamid, the lawyer who was representing Sarabjit, told media persons after the verdict, "I cannot be present in the court as I am a government lawyer."
"Other lawyer, who was to represent him, was in some other court and before he could have reached there the petition was dismissed," said Hamid.
The sole hope left for Sarabjit, whose trial evoked much public and media hype on both sides of the border, is a pardon by President Zardari.
His review mercy petition is now pending in the President's office.
"I cannot really comment on this now," Presidential spokesman Farhattullah Babar said when asked to comment on the court order.
Sarabjit's lawyer Hamid said he had been unable to appear in the court after he was last year appointed an additional advocate general by Punjab government. Sarabjit was to be hanged on April one last year though Pakistani authorities put off his execution indefinitely after Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani intervened in the matter.
Following an appeal by Sarabjit, the Lahore High Court had upheld his death sentence in 2003. The apex court too had upheld his death sentence in August 2005. Former President Pervez Musharraf dismissed Sarabjit's mercy petition last year.
Sarabjit's execution was initially deferred by 30 days by Musharraf last year. This was done so that the Pakistan People's Party-led government, which had just assumed power at the time, could review his case following India's appeal for clemency.
In October last year, then Law Minister Farooq Naek met Sarabjit at Kot Lakhpat jail in Lahore to examine his case so that President Zardari could decide whether to pardon him. There has been no movement in this matter since then.
Naek, who is now Chairman of the Senate or upper house of parliament, had pointed out that only the President had the powers to pardon or remit Sarabjit's sentence, as the Supreme Court had dismissed his mercy petition.