India appeals to UN court to halt execution of 'spy'

by Jo Biddle

The Hague (AFP) - India on Monday urged the UN's top court to stop Pakistan executing an Indian national convicted of spying, as Islamabad hit back accusing its rival of "time-wasting and political grandstanding".

In an emergency hearing called only days after India lodged its case, lawyers and officials for New Delhi urged the International Court of Justice to halt the death sentence imposed on Kulbhushan Sudhir Jadhav saying his rights had been violated by Islamabad.

Jadhav was arrested in the restive southwestern province of Balochistan in March 2016, where a separatist insurgency has raged for years.

He was "an innocent Indian national, who, incarcerated in Pakistan for more than a year on concocted charges, (has been) deprived of his rights and protection accorded under the Vienna Convention," Deepak Mittal, an official with India's ministry of external affairs, told the court in The Hague.

Mittal insisted Pakistan has failed to respond to all Indian demands for information about the case, snubbing requests for documents including the charge sheet, and has failed to provide Jadhav with consular access.

Islamabad has also not responded to a visa application by Jadhav's parents seeking to travel to Pakistan to visit their son.

- 'Miscarriage of justice' -

Jadhav "has been denied the right to be defended by a legal counsel of his choice," Mittal said at the start of day-long hearing, adding that a confession was forced out of him.

"All that we know is what we have seen in the media in Pakistan," he added.

But Pakistani representatives told the court Jadhav "has confessed to having been sent by India to wage terror on the innocent civilians and infrastructure of Pakistan".

Mohammad Faisal, from the Pakistani foreign affairs ministry, said the tribunal had been shown a video of the confession which was available on-line "for viewers to decide for themselves whether commander Jadhav is confessing voluntarily".

Faisal also showed the court a picture of a passport which he said was found in Jadhav's possession bearing a completely different "and Muslim" name.

"India has been unable, or perhaps unwilling, to provide an explanation for this passport which is the most obvious indication of covert and illegal activity," added Faisal.

India has denied however he was a spy, and last week lodged a rare protest at the ICJ accusing Pakistan of "egregious violations of the Vienna convention".

The case has highlighted the recent sharp uptick in tensions between the two nuclear-armed rivals, with the two sides outlining starkly different accounts.

"India believes that the farcical nature of the proceedings and unjust trial by a Pakistan military court... has led to a serious miscarriage of justice," said Mittal.

India is seeking the immediate suspension of the death sentence against Jadhav who it claims was kidnapped from Iran, where he was carrying on business after retiring.

- 'Far-fetched' story -

But lawyer Khawar Qureshi, appearing for Pakistan, shot back that Jadhav "is a terrorist" and New Delhi's story was "far-fetched at best."

"India invoked the jurisdiction of this court improperly," he said. "This court exists to ensure that states engage in peaceful resolution of disputes. This court does not exist for time-wasting and political grandstanding."

The court's president Ronny Abraham said the tribunal would publicly deliver its decision on whether to grant an emergency stay of execution "as soon as possible."

New Delhi ultimately wants the tribunal to order Islamabad to annul the sentence.

It also wants the ICJ, set up in 1945 to rule on disputes between nations in accordance with international law, to declare that the Pakistani military court violated the Vienna Convention by imposing a death sentence on Jadhav and broke human rights laws.

India and Pakistan routinely accuse one another of sending spies into their countries, and it is not uncommon for either nation to expel diplomats accused of espionage, particularly at times of high tension. But death sentences have rarely been issued in recent years.

The case comes as relations have plummeted since a deadly attack on an Indian army base in the disputed region of Kashmir in September, which New Delhi blamed on Pakistan-based Islamist group Jaish-e-Mohammed.