Lahore: Sarabjit Singh, the Indian who was attacked in a prison in Pakistan where he spent 22 years after being convicted of terrorism, died early this morning at a Lahore hospital after a cardiac arrest. Pakistan has agreed to India’s request that his body be sent back for last rites.
The 49-year-old was admitted at Lahore’s Jinnah hospital on Friday with severe brain injuries after a group of inmates hit him on the head with bricks and pieces of tin. Doctors had warned from the start that his recovery was unlikely; he was comatose and on ventilator support. He died at 12.45 am.
An autopsy will be conducted today and India’s High Commissioner to Pakistan is meeting senior officials there to work out modalities for the return of Mr Singh’s body. Home Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde said he was making efforts since 2 pm last night, when he first heard of Sarabjit’s death, to bring back the body. He met Mr Singh’s family in New Delhi early this morning.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has condoled the death and regretted that “Pakistan did not heed pleas of India and Sarabjit’s family for taking a humanitarian view in this case.” India had unsuccessfully petitioned Pakistan to let Mr Singh, who was on death row there, be sent home for better medical treatment.
In a strong statement issued this morning, the Indian government said, “This was, put simply, the killing of our citizen while in the custody of Pakistan jail authorities.”
Sarabjit’s family has requested that he be accorded “a martyr’s funeral”. His sister, Dalbir Kaur, his wife and two daughters, who were given emergency visas to visit him, returned to India on Wednesday afternoon after being told that his coma appeared irreversible. They said they had been let down by the Indian government.
Pakistan has, over the years, maintained that Mr Singh was a terrorist. He was given the death sentence in 1991 for bombings a year earlier in Lahore and Multan in which 14 people were killed.
His sister, who had campaigned for years for his release, has said he inadvertently crossed the border into Pakistan and his conviction was a case of mistaken identity. She has also said that the attack at the Kot Lakhpat jail last week was pre-planned and that there was a threat to Sarabjit’s life.