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Death of jailed Indian in Pakistan causes furor

May 02, 2013|By Emily Alpert
  • Indian activists pose with pictures of deceased inmate Sarabjit Singh in Kolkata on May 2, 2013.
Indian activists pose with pictures of deceased inmate Sarabjit Singh… (Dibyangshu Sarkar / AFP/Getty…)

The death of an Indian prisoner attacked behind bars in Pakistan set off an uproar Thursday, as protests erupted and the Indian government demanded justice in the politically sensitive case.

Sarabjit Singh had spent more than two decades in Pakistani prisons after being convicted of spying and carrying out a string of deadly bombings. His family claimed he had accidentally strayed into Pakistan and was wrongfully convicted. After Singh was brutally attacked by other inmates Friday, his family and the Indian government pleaded for him to be returned to his homeland for medical treatment.

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh hailed Singh as “a brave son of India” whose death brought “profound grief” not only to his family, but to the entire nation.

“The criminals responsible for the barbaric and murderous attack on him must be brought to justice,” the prime minister said in his statement Thursday. “It is particularly regrettable that the government of Pakistan did not heed the pleas … to take a humanitarian view of this case.”

The Pakistani Foreign Ministry said in a statement Thursday that  Singh, who was comatose and on a ventilator, was “provided the best treatment available.”

“The medical staff at Jinnah Hospital had been working round the clock since his hospitalization to save his life,” the statement said. “However, despite their best efforts, they could not save him and Sarabjit Singh passed away due to cardiac arrest.”

Singh was the second Indian national to die this year while imprisoned in Pakistan; the first was also a man convicted of spying, according to Amnesty International. He had reportedly received death threats after India executed a Kashmiri convicted of attacking the Indian Parliament.

The case has strained ties between India and Pakistan, nuclear-armed neighbors that agreed to resume peace talks nearly two years ago. Skirmishes in the disputed Kashmir region this year had already threatened efforts to smooth ties between the two countries.

After news of Singh's death reached India, infuriated protesters burned Pakistani flags and set fire to an effigy of the Pakistani prime minister. The Indian state of Punjab declared three days of mourning, during which flags will be flown at half staff on all government buildings and no official ceremonial functions will be held, a spokesman told the Press Trust of India.

A Pakistani human rights group accused prison guards of allowing the deadly attack.

“Not even the most naive person can believe that a prisoner like Sarabjit in a death cell inside a jail can be targeted in such a brutal assault by prisoners without the knowledge and support of prison guards and the authorities,” the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan said in a statement.

Two prisoners have been charged with murder in the attack, according to Pakistani and Indian news reports. Amnesty International said staffers at Kot Lakhpat prison had been suspended.

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