NEW DELHI, India — Tensions between India and Pakistan have risen after an Indian prisoner on death row in Pakistan died today after being beaten by fellow inmates six days ago.
Sarabjit Singh was pronounced dead at 12:45 a.m. Pakistan time at Lahore's Jinnah hospital. He was convicted in 1991 of espionage charges and involvement in explosions in Lahore and Multan that left 14 dead.
His family maintains Singh's conviction was a case of mistaken identity. The Indian government said in a statement on Thursday, "This was, put simply, the killing of our citizen while in the custody of Pakistan jail authorities."
Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said in a statement, "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."
He added, "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 49-year-old prisoner had slipped into a coma after suffering serious injuries when he was attacked on April 26 by fellow prisoners wielding bricks. India complained that it was denied diplomatic access to the prisoner while he was injured, and the incident has sparked anti-Paksitan protests in many parts of India.
Singh's body is expected to be flown from Lahore to India Thursday afternoon, and has already been handed over from Pakistan to Indian officials.
Although the incident is unlikely to significantly affect India-Pakistan relations, it could have an impact on India's domestic politics.
Indians have reacted with anger to the news of Singh's death, publicized by politicians contesting state elections. The opposition nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) criticized the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government for failing to secure the alleged spy's release. A Congress Party spokesman retorted that the BJP-led government in power from 1999 to 2004 had done no better.
Captured near the India-Pakistan border in August 1990, Singh was convicted for four serial blasts carried out earlier that year. He maintained throughout his incarceration that he was a farmer who had strayed across the border while drunk, and had no connection with the "Manjit Singh" that Pakistani authorities believed to have perpetrated the terrorist attacks.
Human rights lawyers, politicians, and Bollywood stars campaigned for his release during the 22 years of Singh's imprisonment and succeeded in delaying his scheduled execution in 2008.
Singh's death may have related to India's recent executions of the lone terrorist captured after the Mumbai attacks in 2008 and the Kashmiri Afzal Guru, who was convicted for a 2001 attack on the Indian parliament.
Some believe the death of Guru — whose conviction was also strongly disputed — may have inspired the attack that led to Singh's death. Singh's sister told Indian media that "inmates were threatening him of dire consequences and were aggressive since the hanging of Afzal Guru."