Hours after Indian death row prisoner Sarabjit Singh was declared dead at 1 a.m. on Thursday, the Punjab Police slapped murder charges on the two inmates of Lahore’s Kot Lakhpat Jail who brutally attacked him on April 26.
Punjab’s caretaker Chief Minister Najam Sethi also ordered a judicial enquiry into the attack and has asked for the report to be submitted within 15 days. He also assured Indian High Commissioner Sharat Sabharwal – who met him in Lahore during the day – that the guilty would be brought to book.
What transpired within the jail premises is still unclear with several versions being reported in the media. However, from what the Foreign Office has been saying all week, Singh was injured during a ``scuffle’’ with fellow inmates. In the statement put out on his death this morning, too, the Foreign Office mentioned the incident as a scuffle with fellow inmates.
According to the Foreign Office, Singh – who had been in a comatose state and on a ventilator for the last few days – died due to cardiac arrest. With Singh’s family raising doubts about the quality of treatment given to him, the Foreign office maintained that the best treatment available had been provided. ``The medical staff at Jinnah Hospital had been working round the clock since his hospitalization to save his life. However, despite their best efforts, they could not save him.’’
Soon after Singh breathed his last, his body was shifted to the mortuary and post-mortem conducted this morning. Later, the body was handed over to officials of the Indian High Commission who have been stationed in Lahore since the attack. Meanwhile, landing clearance was granted to the special flight sent by India to take the body to Amritsar.
The Sarabjit story remained on the headlines through the day despite the country being in the midst of elections due on May 11. In a related statement, the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) said it was impossible to believe that a prisoner like Singh in a death cell in jail could be targeted in such a manner by prisoners without the ``knowledge and support’’ of prison guards and the authorities.
``It was no secret that Sarabjit faced more threats than other prisoners on account of the charge that he was convicted of and yet his security was so completely compromised…. Those in Pakistan who take pride in their vengefulness must feel some shame today, if they are capable of that. Those elements in India who are no less vengeful, intolerant and fond of jingoism than their Pakistani counterparts would no doubt write their own script now,’’ HRCP said in its statement.
Articulating the concern of the peace-with-India-lobby, HRCP said Singh’s death might undermine the hard work done by both countries to normalize relations. Stressing the need to work doubly hard to undo the damage caused to bilateral relations by Singh’s killing, HRCP added that if both countries could treat each other’s prisoners with some compassion instead of ``exposing them to the worst of treatment reserved for prisoners in their jails’’, then some good could come from the brutal murder.