An Indian citizen convicted by the Pakistani courts of espionage, languishing behind bars for 22 years, breathed his last on Thursday, seven days after he was brutally beaten by fellow inmates, according to media reports.
Indians have reacted to this news of death-row inmate, who was attacked on April 26 by six prison inmates with bricks and knives at Lahore's Kot Lakhpat jail as he and other prisoners were brought out of their cells for a one-hour break, with deep anger and dismay.
Reportedly, due to serious injuries to his head, spine and torso, Sarbajit fell into a coma and passed away on Thursday in Lahore's Jinnah hospital. Meanwhile, two inmates have been charged with attempted murder and two officials suspended.
Sarbajit’s fate has been a source of grave tension between India and Pakistan since the deadly attack. In fact, according to the Pakistan’s Human Rights Commission the assault on Sarabjit by prisoners was carried out with the knowledge and support of prison guards and the authorities.
In a statement, Indian Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh, said he was 'deeply saddened' by Sarabjit’s death and demanded that “The criminals responsible for the barbaric and murderous attack on him must be brought to justice.”
Sarabjit Singh, 51 was accused of spying for India and involvement in the 1990 bomb attacks in Lahore and Faisalabad in which 14 people died. He was convicted and sentenced to death in 1991 and since than has been on death row. According to Pakistani authorities his real name was Manjit Singh.
Mercy petitions made on his behalf were rejected by Pakistani courts and former President Pervez Musharraf. His family, especially his sister Dalbir Kaur, who has been fighting for his release for decades, said her brother had inadvertently strayed into Pakistani territory while he was drunk and had been wrongly arrested.
The Singh family, which had been to Pakistan to check on Sarabjit’s condition, had only just returned to India after visiting him in hospital. The Indian government had appealed for his release or transfer to India for medical treatment, since there were growing concerns over Singh’s deteriorating health and treatment in Pakistan following the attack.
The injuries were so grave that his brain is said to have been damaged and his skull fractured. The Indian government is particularly upset that their pleas on humane grounds were ignored. In a tweet, the Prime Minister’s office wrote: "Particularly regrettable that the government of Pakistan did not heed the pleas.... to take a humanitarian view of this case."
AFP news agency quoting Sarabjit Singh's lawyer Owais Sheikh earlier said his client's death was "feared." He believes his client’s case was clearly one of "mistaken identity". Sheikh also disclosed his client had previously spoken of threats from jail inmates following the February hanging of Afzal Guru, a militant convicted for his role in 2001 attack on Indian Parliament and of Ajmal Qasab, a Pakistani who was the sole surviving perpetrator of the 2008 Mumbai attacks which claimed 260 lives.
Sarabjit Singh’s brutal death risks stirring fresh tensions in the fragile relationship between two nuclear-armed neighbors and traditional rivals, India and Pakistan. Strains have already increased since the beheading of Indian solders on the border and the killing of another Indian prisoner Chamel Singh in Pakistani jail, just three months back.
Some of the tweets are quite revealing of the Indians’ anger over what many on this side of the border term as “extra judicial killings” by the Pakistani authorities., leader of opposition in Lok Sabha posted – "It is a cold blooded murder. This is not the way civilized nations behave. #Sarabjit Singh"
, former top woman police officer said – "Human Rights Council must be approached by us to investigate d fatal assault on Sarabjit Singh. Case of serious HRights violation." Dilip Cherian, image consultant and columnist wrote – "Govt fiddles! Pak patients in droves saved daily in India's hospitals! Sad inequity."
According to Akal Takht Jathedar Gurbachan Singh, Sarabjit had been murdered in Pakistan. He opined that Sarabjit was kept in jail on the basis of a suspicion. Blaming the Pakistani government squarely for the death in a Pakistani prison, he said: "They have murdered him when they couldn't hang him. The Indian government should take some strict action. This is condemnable. We will pray for his soul to rest in peace," he added.
Being an Indian, irrespective of whether Sarabjit Singh was a spy or a convicted terrorist or not (which in any case is highly disputable), means he was lodged in a Pakistani jail. It was the duty and responsibility of the government there to ensure his safety and security. Hence, the Pakistani authorities must be held directly responsible for this heinous human rights violation of Sarabjit Singh, even if he was a death row convict, according to them.
It is clearly a contravention of international treaties including the Vienna Convention treaty on the rights of prisoners. It is time for human rights organizations world-wide to condemn Pakistan for this latest act of brutality perpetuated on their soil and may be happening with other prisoners as well.
Personally, to me, it looks to be a case of extra judicial killings since the man could not be hanged. As per Pakistan’s own constitution, there is protection against double punishment and self-incrimination by which no person shall be prosecuted or punished for the same offence more than once.
If a person has served a term of 14 years he cannot be hanged or punished further since that would amount to dual punishment. However, in this case Sarabjit has already served 14 years. In fact he has been incarcerated for 22 years. Clearly there has been a huge travesty of justice, which the world must take note of and act upon strongly.
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