India spy Surjeet Singh returns from Pakistan jail

The BBC's Andrew North: "There are few signs that this is going to make any difference to relations between these two long term rivals"

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An Indian man has returned to his country after spending more than 30 years in jail in Pakistan for spying.

Surjeet Singh was greeted at the Wagah border crossing by his son and other family members and well-wishers.

Wearing marigold garlands around his neck, Mr Singh admitted to reporters: "I had gone there for spying."

There was confusion this week when Pakistan said another Indian, Sarabjit Singh, would be freed, but later clarified it was to be Surjeet Singh.

Sarabjit Singh has been on death row for more than 21 years after being convicted of spying and bomb attacks he denies carrying out.

Campaigners are still pressing for him to be freed too as part of what is being seen as a recent thaw in diplomatic relations between India and Pakistan.

On Wednesday, Pakistan released more than 300 Indian fishermen being held in a Karachi jail as a goodwill gesture.

The fishermen are also expected to cross the Wagah border on Thursday.

'Really happy'

INDIA-PAKISTAN 'SPIES'

  • Gopal Das was released in April 2011 after 27 years in jail in Pakistan. On his return, he admitted to spying and accused India of doing little to secure his release
  • In April 2010, India arrested its own diplomat Madhuri Gupta on suspicion of spying for Pakistan. She is being tried and denies the charges against her
  • Kashmir Singh, sentenced to death in Pakistan in 1973 for spying, was released in March 2008. He later admitted to spying and said India had done nothing for him or his family.

TV pictures showed Mr Singh crossing the Wagah border, accompanied by Border Security Force personnel and police.

Family members greeted him by putting several marigold garlands around his neck and offered him sweets.

Nearly 250 people from his village had arrived in buses to receive him at the border.

"I am free after 30 years. I've met my family, I'm really happy," he told reporters.

Mr Singh said he had been treated well in jail.

He said he met his fellow prisoner, Sarabjit Singh, regularly in Lahore's Kot Lakhpat prison and that he had been well treated too.

Surjeet Singh said he would do everything possible to get his fellow prisoner freed. He said "media hype" had spoiled Sarabjit Singh's case.

Surjeet Singh now plans to go to the Golden Temple, Sikhdom's holiest place, "to pray and hug my children".

There are few details available of how Mr Singh came to be in Pakistan or when exactly he was arrested.

Surjeet Singh hugs his daughter Parminder Kaur Surjeet Singh returned to India amid emotional scenes

He was a resident of Phidde village in Punjab's Ferozepur district and his family says his real name is Makhan Singh and that he was a low-ranking government employee.

He is believed to be in his mid-70s.

Earlier this week, Pakistan's law minister conveyed to the government that Surjeet Singh had completed his life term and ought to be released and sent back to India.

That followed reports, which turned out to be wrong, that Pakistan was about to free Sarabjit Singh.

On Thursday, Indian External Affairs Minister SM Krishna said he "welcomed" Surjeet Singh's release, but it was now "time for Sarabjit Singh to be freed".

Pakistan and India frequently arrest each other's citizens, often accusing them of being spies after they have strayed across the land or maritime border.

In recent years, several Indians returning from Pakistani jails have admitted to spying. Some have criticised India's government for abandoning them.

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