Tears for 'innocent' jailed Pakistan cricketers
Relatives wept and professed the innocence of their loved ones on Thursday as a London court jailed three Pakistani cricketers for fixing parts of a Test match against England.
"My son is innocent and he did the no ball at the asking of the captain," said Nasim Akhtar, the mother of Mohammad Aamer, tears rolling down her cheeks at her home in the village of Changa Bangial outside the Pakistani capital.
Aamer, 19, is the youngest of the trio and was jailed for six months. Pakistan former Test captain Salman Butt, 27, received 30 months and fastbowler Mohammad Asif, 28, received one year in jail.
Corrupt British agent Mazhar Majeed, 36, who had also pleaded guilty but had denied he had initiated the scam, was given two years and eight months.
Aamer's mother, who lives in a simple two-roomed home, 73 kilometres (46 miles) east of Islamabad, said she feared she might die before he returns home.
"I spoke to him two days ago and he asked me to pray for his acquittal... I'm ill after this case, suffering from several diseases and I may not be here (when he gets out)," she added.
"My prayers are with my son and only Allah will do justice with us," she said, watching news of the verdicts being broadcast on television in her living room, surrounded by female relatives.
Aamer's house is located on a narrow street. The village of Changa Bangial is surrounded by farmland, where workers were tilling the land with tractors.
After hearing the verdict on television, Aamer's wife started crying while neighbours gathered at the residence to express sorrow over the conviction.
"He should not have been sentenced after his confession. We were under the impression that he will be released after the imposition of a fine," said Aamer's brother, 26-year-old Mohammad Ijaz.
In the eastern city of Lahore, where Butt was brought up in relative luxury compared to Aamer, his sisters spoke to reporters to defend their brother and claimed he had been made a scapegoat for a wider conspiracy.
"The punishment is unfair, it is shocking. Our brother is innocent," said Khadija, veiled and in her 30s, outside the family home.
"We talked to him this morning he was very upset and asked us to pray for him... His crime is that he was at the wrong place at the wrong time," she added.
"The trio had been framed and made part of a wider controversy."
But in Pakistan, where millions of avid cricket fans were devastated by the spot-fixing scandal at the Lord's Test in 2010, the prison terms were welcomed as a deterrent that could clean up corruption in the sport.
"In Pakistan, where cricket is the national sport, the ordinary follower of the national team feels betrayed by your activities," said Judge Jeremy Cooke.
"They betrayed their country, so did not deserve leniency. Good job Judge Cooke," said Mohammad Ashraf, 40, a salesman at a toy shop in downtown Karachi.
"These sentences exemplify a real effort to purge cricket from the corrupt."
Student Aasia Muzaffar said it was a dire day for a country already struggling with Taliban and Al-Qaeda-linked bomb attacks, a sagging economy, power cuts and endemic corruption.
"Pakistan faces another day of shame. Everyone is pointing the finger at us as if we are the most corrupt people on earth," she said.
"They are not players but gamblers. They should have been sentenced for life," added the 19 year old.
"The sentences are good, but they have broken our hearts as well," said Ayan Zaheer, 15, a schoolboy who plays under 16 cricket.
"Sometimes I think of quitting cricket as even if you aren't corrupt you're forced to do wrong by your superiors."
© 2011 AFP