Indian Prisoner in Pakistan Dies After Beating, Prompting Angry Reply From India

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MULTAN, Pakistan -- An Indian man on death row in Pakistan for espionage has died after being attacked by fellow inmates, Pakistan's state television said early Thursday, prompting an angry response from India.

The man, Sarabjit Singh, 51, died in a hospital in the eastern city of Lahore, where he had been in a coma for at least five days. He had been on death row after being convicted of espionage in connection with bombings in two Pakistani cities in 1990.

His fate had been a source of tension between Pakistan and India since he was attacked last Friday. In a statement, the Indian prime minister, Manmohan Singh, said he was "deeply saddened" by Mr. Singh's death, describing him as a "brave son of India," and adding, "The criminals responsible for the barbaric and murderous attack on him must be brought to justice."

Pakistani officials said two prisoners had been charged with first-degree murder in the case.

The prime minister also criticized the Pakistani government's refusal to repatriate the injured prisoner to India for emergency treatment.

"It is particularly regrettable that the government of Pakistan did not heed the pleas of the government of India, Sarabjit's family and of civil society in India and Pakistan to take a humanitarian view of this case," the prime minister said.

According to the Pakistani police, Mr. Singh was assaulted by two prisoners as he left his cell at Kot Lakhpat jail, outside Lahore, to exercise last Friday. He suffered severe head injuries and was later brought to the city's Jinnah Hospital in critical condition.

Mr. Singh's wife, sister and two daughters came to Pakistan to visit him on Sunday and returned to India on Wednesday.

The government also said in a statement that hospital employees had worked to save Mr. Singh. "The prisoner, who had been in a comatose state and on a ventilator for the last few days, was being provided the best treatment available and the medical staff at Jinnah Hospital had been working round the clock since his hospitalization to save his life," said a statement by the Pakistani government. "However, despite their best efforts, they could not save him and Sarabjit Singh passed away due to cardiac arrest."

Mr. Singh's Pakistani lawyer said his client had previously spoken of threats from inmates after the hanging of Afzal Guru, who was suspected of being a Kashmiri militant, by the Indian authorities in February.

Mr. Singh was convicted of spying and involvement in a series of blasts that killed 14 people in the Punjabi cities of Faisalabad and Lahore in 1990.

His case came into the limelight in 2006 when his sister appealed to Pervez Musharraf, then the Pakistani president, to grant him clemency and repatriate him to India. That petition was dismissed by Mr. Musharraf and the Pakistani courts. Mr. Singh then wrote to President Asif Ali Zardari in July 2009, requesting a pardon on humanitarian grounds.

Mr. Singh's fate had been the source of intense news media coverage in both countries, but it was not clear whether it would have a serious effect on relations.

Prisoner exchanges are a long-running sore point between Pakistan and India, and they have formed a judicial commission composed of retired judges to review the issue. An Indian delegation is due to travel to Pakistan for further talks later this month.

Mr. Singh's body was handed to Indian officials in Lahore early on Thursday, and it was taken back to India on a special Indian plane that evening. Pakistani officials expressed hopes that the case would not affect Pakistani prisoners in Indian jails.

Aizaz Ahmad Chaudhry, the spokesman of Pakistani Ministry of Foreign Affairs, was quoted by local news media as saying that bilateral ties would not be adversely affected. "Dialogue should continue in the larger interest," he said.

Waqar Gillani contributed reporting from Multan, and Salman Masood from Islamabad, Pakistan.

world

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.


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