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Asia

Indian and Pakistani prisoners risk more attacks

The India-Pakistan Judicial Committee on Prisoners has called on the Indian and Pakistani governments to ensure the safety of each other's prisoners languishing in jails.

Last week, retired Indian judges A.S. Gill and M.A. Khan, and retired Pakistani judges Nasir Aslam Zahid, Chaudhry Qadeer and Mian Ajmal of the India-Pakistan Judicial Committee on Prisoners visited Pakistani jails in Karachi, Rawalpindi and Lahore and came up with various recommendations for the Indian and Pakistani governments.

Calls to increase the security of Indian and Pakistani prisoners increased after the attack on Sarabjit Singh - an Indian citizen sentenced to death in Pakistan in 1991 on charges of spying and terrorism in Pakistan. Singh was allegedly attacked on April 26 by two of his jail inmates, Amir Tanba and Mudasir, in Lahore's Kot Lakhpat prison. The 49-year-old was immediately taken to a hospital in Lahore where he received medical treatment, but later succumbed to his wounds.

Pakistani human rights activists also called on their government to launch an inquiry into the death of Singh and punish those who attacked him.

A portrait of Indian prisoner Sarabjit Singh lies next to lighted candles and flower petals during a tribute paying ceremony to him after he died at Jinnah hospital in Lahore, in Amritsar, India on 02 May 2013 (EPA/RAMINDER PAL SINGH +++(c) dpa - Bildfunk+++)

Right-wing groups in Pakistan had called on the government to execute Singh without delay.

In retaliation, Pakistani citizen Sanaullah Ranjay was attacked at a high-security prison in Indian-administered Kashmir on Thursday, May 2.

Doctors say that Ranjay's condition continues to be "critical."

Recommendations

The Indian and Pakistani judges said in a report that at least 20 out of 36 Indian prisoners in Lahore's Kot Lakhpat jail had become insane and no medical treatment had been provided to them. They also said that around 460 of the 535 Indian prisoners in Pakistani jails did not have access to a consular.

"Consular access must be provided to all prisoners by India and Pakistan at least four times in a year," the judicial committee said in a statement.

The committee further said that a mechanism should be developed for "compassionate and humanitarian consideration for women, juveniles, mentally challenged, and old prisoners, and those suffering from serious illnesses or permanent physical disabilities."

Not a priority

But many think that the Indo-Pakistani judicial committee has no powers beyond issuing joint statements and recommendations.

"For the past six years, the judicial committee has been visiting jails in both countries. But what has happened? Has anything improved? I think it is time to act," Happymon Jacob, a professor of International Relations at the Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi, told DW.

Dalbir Singh, center, sister of Sarabjit Singh, an Indian prisoner who is facing execution in Pakistan, holds a portrait of Singh, during a protest pressing for his release, in Bikhiwind, some 45 kilometers (28 miles) from Amritsar, India, Thursday, June 25, 2009 (Photo: AP Photo/Altaf Qadri)

Many Indians have protested against the attack on Sarabjit Singh in jail

Though hundreds of Indian and Pakistani prisoners were exchanged by the two countries under an agreement reached by the Indian and Pakistani governments in September 2012, there are still many who are suffering in jails. These prisoners include traders, farmers, fishermen, and also soldiers detained as "prisoners of war." The fate of prisoners like Singh, who are detained on charges of spying, is more uncertain than others.

"Both countries know the plight of these prisoners," Suhas Chakma of the Asian Center for Human Rights told DW. "I think both governments should sit across the table to discuss ways to avoid the repetition of such horrific acts."

Pradeep Gupta, a legal aid activist in New Delhi, is of the view that everyone talks about boosting trade and building ties between the two South Asian nuclear powers yet no-one is concerned about the "impoverished and voiceless prisoners" languishing in jails for years.

Experts say that for India and Pakistan these prisoners have never been a priority.

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