In a shocking twist, Pakistan officials have denied releasing Sarabjit Singh, dashing all hopes held by the Indian prisoner's family who were anticipating the alleged spy's release.
Past midnight on Wednesday, Pakistan's presidential spokesman confirmed that instead of releasing Sarbajit Singh, country officials planned to release another Indian prisoner Surjeet Singh who has been jailed for around three decades since 1989.
Earlier, Pakistani TV reports said that Pakistan president Asif Ali Zardari commuted Sarabjith's death sentence to life and ordered for his release. It also suggested that Indian External Affairs Minister SM Krishna even thanked Zardari for the attempts taken to release Sarabjit.
In fact, several hours after the reports were aired on TV channels, the Pakistan president's office clarified that it was not Sarbajit but Surjeet Singh who will be released from Pakistan jail.
"I think there is some confusion. First, it is not a case of pardon. More importantly, it is not Sarabjit. It is Surjeet Singh, son of Sucha Singh. His death sentence was commuted in 1989 by President (Ghulam) Ishaq (Khan) on the advice of (then premier) Benazir Bhutto," Zardari's spokesperson Farhatullah Babar said, according to Indian news agency Press Trust of India.
"Any references to President Asif Ali Zardari in the entire matter were out of context," he added.
The news came as a big blow to Sarabjith's family who were already celebrating his forthcoming release. Sarabjit, who was living in a small village near the India-Pakistan border, was arrested and convicted for his involvement in the 1990 bomb blasts in Lahore and Multan that killed at least 10 people. He was given death sentence by a Pakistani judge in 1991.
Sarabjit had since argued that it was a case of mistaken identity and that he is a farmer from Tarn-Taran district in Punjab, before eventually crossing the border to Pakistan in an inebriated state.
Although several appeals had been made for his release during all these years, they were all rejected by various Pakistan courts. In 2006, the Pakistan Supreme Court upheld the death sentence rejecting Sarabjit's mercy plea. He sent a fresh mercy plea to Zardari in May this year.
Meanwhile, Surjeet Singh's family has expressed happiness over his release. Surjeet was arrested and sentenced to death during Zia-ul Haq's regime. But his death sentence was commuted to life and his jail term ended in 2004. He had been held in Lahore's Kot Lakhpat Jail, where Sarabjit had been languishing for the past 22 years.