UN court asks Pakistan to review Indian 'spy' death penalty

In a major legal and diplomatic victory for India, the International Court of Justice on Wednesday ruled that Pakistan must review the punishment for a former Indian navy officer who has been sentenced to death by a Pakistani military court for alleged espionage and terrorism and slammed Islamabad for denying him the right to consular access and legal representation.

Kulbhushan Jadhav, 49 was arrested by Pakistan security agencies in Balochistan in March, 2016 and was charged with spying and indulging in subversive activities. He was sentenced to death by the Pakistani military court after a close-door trial in April 2017 in a verdict that evoked a sharp reaction in India.
India rejected the charges against Jadhav and insisted Jadhav, a retired Indian Navy officer, had gone to Chabahar in southern Iran for business purposes from where he was “abducted” and taken to Pakistan.

Reading out the verdict after more than two years of legal battle at the UN’s top court based in the Hague, Holland, ICJ’s lead Judge Abdulqawi Ahmed Yusuf ordered an "effective review and reconsideration of the conviction and sentence of Mr Kulbhushan Sudhir Jadhav". The 42-page judgment by the 15-judge ICJ, read out by Justice Yusuf, was decided with 14 judges including China’s judge, ruling in favour of Jadhav while Pakistan’s ad hoc judge Justice Tassaduq Hussain Jilani was the lone dissenter.

The court upheld Jadhav’s right to consular access (to Indian diplomatic officials) and slammed Pakistan for denying this and also made it clear that Jadhav’s death sentence should remain suspended until Pakistan effectively reviews and reconsiders the conviction and the punishment. The UN’s principal court ruled that a continued stay of Jadhav’s death sentence was an ‘indispensable condition’ for an effective ‘review and reconsideration’ of his conviction.

The ICJ said that by refusing Jadhav consular access, Pakistan violated the Article 36 of the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, thus endorsing India’s argument. However, the ICJ rejected India’s call to set aside the Pakistan military court’s ruling and ensure Jadhav’s release from a prison in Pakistan and safe passage back to his home. This leaves the ball in Pakistan’s court to decide the future course of action on Jadhav.

By calling for “effective” review and reconsideration of Jadhav’s conviction and sentencing by the military court, the ICJ said such review must be unconditional and asked Pakistan to take all measures for the review including enactment of “appropriate legislation.” The verdict in the high-profile case came nearly five months after a 15-member bench of ICJ led by Judge Yusuf had reserved its decision on February 21 after hearing oral submissions by India and Pakistan. The proceedings of the case took two years and two months to complete India had moved the ICJ on May 8, 2017 for the "egregious violation" of the provisions of the Vienna Convention by Pakistan by repeatedly denying New Delhi consular access to Jadhav.

Political parties in India welcomed the ICJ ruling with Prime Minister Narendra Modi saying “truth and justice have prevailed.” “We welcome today’s verdict in the ICJ. Truth and justice have prevailed. Congratulations to the ICJ for a verdict based on extensive study of facts. I am sure Kulbhushan Jadhav will get justice. Our government will always work for the safety and welfare of every Indian,” Modi said in a Twitter post. Indian External Affairs Ministry spokesperson described the ICJ ruling as a “landmark judgment” that validated India’s position and said: “We will continue to work vigorously for Kulbhushan Jadhav’s early release and return to India.”

Kumar said ICJ, by a vote of 15-1, upheld India’s stance that Pakistan was in “egregious violation” of the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations. “We note the court has directed that Pakistan is under an obligation to inform Jadhav without further delay of his rights and to provide Indian consular officers access to him in accordance with the Vienna Convention. We expect Pakistan to implement the directive immediately,” he added.

It was not clear from Pakistan’s initial reactions if it would abide by the ICJ’s verdict. Pakistan’s Foreign Office announced it will “proceed as per law” and reiterated its allegations that Jadhav was involved in espionage, sabotage and terror acts that it claimed were a “clear case of Indian state terrorism”. Congress leader Rahul Gandhi welcomed the ICJ verdict. “My thoughts tonight are with Kulbhushan Jadhav, alone in a prison cell in Pakistan & with his distraught family for whom this verdict brings a rare moment of relief, joy & renewed hope, that he will one day be free to return to his home in India,” he tweeted.

Legal luminary Harish Salve, who appeared for India in the ICJ in the Jadhav case, said: “I see this as a sense of relief, gratification. I see this as something which we are very happy with. It is now the moment for us to help Jadhav get justice.” Meanwhile, terming the detention of Indian national Kulbhushan Jadhav in Pakistan as "illegal" and under "fabricated" charges, India's External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar on Thursday urged Islamabad to release and repatriate him immediately.

Making a statement in the Rajya Sabha, upper House of parliament, he said the verdict of the International Court of Justice in the Hague on Wednesday is not only a vindication for Jadhav but also for all those who believe in the rule of law.