The findings of an initial autopsy report on March 25 of Indian prisoner Chamel Singh have found what many already suspected both in Pakistan and India: that he was tortured to death. How this will impact relations between the already estranged neighbours is anyone’s guess given that there has always been a certain amount of unpredictability in diplomatic relations. Singh was at the tail end of his five-year sentence, on charges of espionage, when he died on January 15. According to an inmate who was just released from prison, he was allegedly witness to Singh being beaten to death by prison staff for washing clothes in the prison courtyard. However, it took two months to conduct a post-mortem which adds to suspicions of foul play.
None of this should come as a surprise given Pakistan’s poor track record of how it treats its prisoners or even, at times, how police officials treat suspects to make them confess. This is true across the border as well. Unless serious and sincere reforms are undertaken in prisons — from top to bottom — to disallow torture, prosecute anyone caught practising it and ensure prisoners’ rights are maintained, such mala fide incidents will continue with impunity. To avoid such tragic events from occurring in the future, and safeguarding all Indian prisoners in Pakistani jails who may be subject to hate crimes, it is important to launch an investigation into the death of Chamel Singh. Investigations in Pakistan tend to be a waste of time, and often resources, so let this not be the case as the stakes are high. Earlier this month, Pakistan released 10 Indian prisoners, including seven fishermen, from jails in the country whereas in November last year, as a goodwill gesture, India released seven Pakistani prisoners. This is a small example of simple steps that the two countries take to ease tensions, the results of which can be set back when incidents like Singh’s death occur. An independent inquiry into Singh’s death is thus paramount, as is due punishment.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 27th, 2013.