Lahore: Indian prisoner in Pakistan Sarabjit Singh died of a cardiac arrest at Lahore's Jinnah hospital on Thursday after batting for life for nearly a week. The announcement from Pakistan came late in the night. Demands are now growing for his body to be brought back to India. Sources say that the body may be brought back by Thursday afternoon. While his body has been shifted to a mortuary, Pakistan has formed a medical team to conduct the autopsy.
"I received a call from the doctor on duty (at Jinnah Hospital) at 1 am (1:30 IST) informing me that Sarabjit is no more," Mahmood Shaukat, the head of a medical board that was supervising Sarabjit's treatment, said. Another doctor, who was part of the team treating Sarabjit said he died of cardiac arrest, adding that doctors made several unsuccessful attempts to resuscitate him.
His family has demanded that his body be brought back to India and he be declared a martyr. Pakistan media reports say a decision was taken to take him off ventilator support as he was clinically dead. However, the family claims it was only informed later by the Pakistan authorities and they allege this was tantamount to murder.
National SC/ST Commission Vice President Raj Kumar Verma said, "The family got official communication from the High Commissioner. Sarabjit was murdered. Pakistan is a murderer. His family wants Sarabjit to be declared a martyr and the body to be cremated with full state honours."
"I am sad about his death. It will affect the ties between the two countries. He will remain fighting for justice against the brutal attack on Sarabjit by jail inmates," Sarabjit's lawyer Awais Sheikh said.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh condoled Sarabjit's death saying, "I am deeply saddened by the passing away of Sarabjit Singh. He was a brave son of India who bore his tribulations with valiant fortitude. The criminals responsible for the barbaric and murderous attack on him must be brought to justice. 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. May his soul be granted the peace that he could not enjoy in life. Government will make the arrangements to bring his remains home and for his last rites to be conducted in consultation with his family. The nation shares their profound grief with them."
There is anger amongst the political class of India over Sarabjit's death in Pakistan. "Today the nation is angry and sad. The Indian government did not take any constructive step despite having all the information. This is a fit case to take up case against Pakistan at the international level," BJP leader Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi said.
Sarabjit was attacked by fellow prison inmates at the Kot Lakhpat Jail in Lahore. He sustained severe injuries, including a fractured skull, when at least six prisoners attacked him in a barrack at the jail. Sarabjit had slipped in an irreversible coma on Wednesday.
The police had booked two death row prisoners Amer Aftab and Mudassar for the attack on Sarabjit. They reportedly told investigators that they had attacked Sarabjit because he had allegedly carried out bomb attacks in Lahore. No action has been taken so far against officials of the jail for failing to provide adequate security to Sarabjit.
Sarabjit's wife Sukhpreet Kaur, daughters Poonam and Swapandeep Kaur and sister Dalbir Kaur, who went to Lahore on Tuesday to see him, returned to India on Wednesday.
Sarabjit was convicted of alleged involvement in a string of bomb attacks in Punjab province that killed 14 people in 1990 and spent about 22 years in Pakistani prisons. His mercy petitions were rejected by the courts and former President Pervez Musharraf. The previous Pakistan People's Party-led government put off Sarabjit's execution for an indefinite period in 2008. Sarabjit's family says he was the victim of mistaken identity and had inadvertently strayed across the border in an inebriated state.
Following the rapid deterioration in Sarabjit's condition, New Delhi had requested that he be immediately released so that he could be treated in India or a third country. Pakistan had said it was "positively considering" the request to repatriate Sarabjit.
(With additional information from PTI)
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