Alleged Indian spy on death row in Pakistan wins reprieve from execution

People watch TV as the court announces the verdict regarding Indian national Kulbhushan Jadhav. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

NEW DELHI (WASHINGTON POST) - A former navy officer from India on death row in Pakistan on espionage charges got a reprieve from the International Court of Justice, which directed Pakistan to review the conviction and sentence.

The verdict in the case ongoing in The Hague since 2017 could further strain relations between the two neighbouring countries. Kulbhushan Jadhav, 49, was arrested in Pakistan in 2016 and sentenced to death the following year.

In its ruling on Wednesday (July 18), the ICJ affirmed India's plea for consular access for Jadhav, which had been denied by Pakistan.

The court, however, rejected India's demand that Jadhav be released and allowed to return to his country.

"Truth and justice have prevailed," said Prime Minister Narendra Modi in a tweet welcoming the verdict.

Mr Raveesh Kumar, a spokesman for the foreign ministry, said India would continue to "work vigorously for Jadhav's early release".

Calling it a "clear case of Indian state terrorism", Pakistan's foreign office in a statement reiterated that Jadhav was a spy, adding that they would proceed "as per law".

The verdict comes amid fluctuating relations between the antagonistic neighbours.

Earlier this year, tension escalated at the border when India and Pakistan engaged in their first aerial dogfight in decades following a deadly terrorist attack in India-controlled Kashmir.

Since then, the two countries have taken tentative steps at sitting across the table for a proposed road link from India to a major Sikh temple in Pakistan.

Jadhav's case airs both countries' grievances against each other.

Pakistan sees it as proof of India's efforts to destabilise peace in the restive Balochistan region. For India, the case is an attempt by Pakistan to sidetrack global criticism of its failure to stop homegrown terrorism.

Jadhav was taken into custody in the Balochistan province bordering Iran on March 3, 2016, but India was informed only on March 25, 2016.

After the arrest, Pakistan released a video of Jadhav's alleged confession of being an Indian spy deployed to cause unrest in the Balochistan region where Pakistan is fighting an insurgent liberation movement.

In April 2017, Jadhav was given the death sentence by a military court.

India had dismissed Pakistan's claims, saying that while Jadhav had formerly been a naval officer, he was not associated with any intelligence agencies.

The Indian government had said Jadhav had business interests in Iran, for which he travelled there frequently.

In May 2017, India approached the ICJ over what it called the "farcical trial" that Jadhav underwent in a military court on the basis of an "extracted" confession, asking the execution to be stayed and to allow him consular access.

It argued that Pakistan was in breach of the Vienna Convention as the country should have informed India about the arrest of its national "without delay".

During the hearings, the ICJ had directed Pakistan to not carry out the sentence until the court's final verdict.

Separately, earlier on Wednesday, in a surprise move, Pakistan arrested Hafiz Saeed, head of the militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba, accused of orchestrating the 2008 Mumbai terrorist attack - a long-standing demand by India.

New Delhi however dismissed the move, saying it was done to deflect criticism ahead of Prime Minister Imran Khan's visit to the United States.

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.