Slips into coma; told his lawyer of threat to life 20 days ago

Indian death-row prisoner Sarabjit Singh sustained serious head injuries when he was attacked by other inmates in Lahore’s Kot Lakhpat Jail on Friday afternoon. He was shifted to Jinnah Hospital where he is said to have regained consciousness around 8 p.m. but a late night report in The Express Tribune said he had slipped into a coma and was on ventilator support.

Jail official Munawar Ali said Singh was attacked by two death-row prisoners while they were having tea. Apparently, an argument ensued after which the other two prisoners attacked Sarabjit Singh with bricks and blades. However, his lawyer Awais Sheikh contested this; saying that, being a death row prisoner, Singh was always escorted by a prison guard whenever he was brought out.

With the hospital area where he was being treated made out-of-bounds for journalists, details about his condition were scarce to come by.

The Indian High Commission in Islamabad has sent two officials to Lahore to provide him consular access. The two officials were expected to reach Lahore some time during the night.

The mission has also been informed that Singh’s condition was serious but doctors were working round the clock to save him.

Mr. Sheikh said Singh had told prison officials that he was being threatened by some inmates ever since India executed Afzal Guru for the attack on Indian Parliament in 2001. “In my last meeting with him about 20 days ago, he had even named some of them in my presence to prison officials.” Following Guru’s execution, demands for reciprocal treatment to Sarabjit Singh had increased with the Jamat-ud-Da’wah taking the lead on this count. The assistant superintendent of the jail, the head warden and the warden have been suspended for negligence.

Sarabjit Singh is the second Indian prisoner to be attacked in Kot Lakhpat Jail this year. On January 15, Chamel Singh — a native of Jammu — succumbed to injuries sustained under mysterious circumstances within the prison premises.

Local media reports said the preliminary postmortem report indicated that he had been tortured to death but this was denied by the Punjab Prisons Department. Rafiq Chaudhry, Senior Superintendent of Kot Lakhpat Jail, told the state-owned Associated Press of Pakistan that Chamel Singh had suffered a stroke in prison and died on way to hospital.

Sarabjit Singh has been in prison since 1990 for the serial blasts in Lahore and Faislabad. He was sentenced to death a year later.

Last year, a mix-up over names, resulted in the media wrongly reporting that he had been pardoned by President Asif Ali Zardari whereas it was actually 80-year-old prisoner Surjeet Sarabjit Singh who was to be released. He had been sentenced to death during the Zia years but benefited from a general amnesty granted by late premier Benazir Bhutto.

He had completed his life sentence in 2004 but had been languishing in prison till 2012 when he was released as the Law Ministry said that keeping him imprisoned amounted to illegal detention.