THE HAGUE, Netherlands (CN) – In a major victory for India, the International Court of Justice on Wednesday blocked the execution of a former Indian navy officer sentenced to death by a Pakistani military court on espionage charges.
Before a full courtroom, ICJ President Abdulqawi Ahmed Yusuf read aloud the ruling, which found that Pakistan denied consular rights under the Vienna Convention to Kulbhushan Sudhir Jadhav and ordered a stay of his execution.
Visitors, mostly Indian nationals living in the Netherlands, lined up outside of the Peace Palace in The Hague to get a seat for the highly anticipated decision.
“This is an important case for Indian and Pakistan relations so I wanted to see the outcome,” said Aditya Chowdhury, who had been waiting for an hour in the sunny weather.
Jadhav has been in Pakistani custody since 2016. India claimed that Jadhav was denied access to legal and consular advice before being convicted of “espionage and sabotage activities” by a Pakistani military court and sentenced to death in April 2017.
Pakistan’s government claims Jadhav was acting on behalf of the Indian government to incite terrorist activity in Balochistan, a Pakistani province which shares a border with Afghanistan and Iran. A number of separatist groups operate in the region.
Pakistani officials have released several videos of Jadhav which they say are confessions of his espionage activities. Jadhav’s family, however, say Jadhav denies the charges.
For its part, the Indian government says Jadhav was not acting for India and the videos were produced under duress. Jadhav had previously served in the Indian Navy but, according to the Indian government, retired early and was working in the private sector.
During the ICJ trial in February, India claimed it learned of Jadhav’s arrest in a press release from the Pakistani government.
Both parties signed the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, which guarantees foreign nationals may contact their embassy if they are arrested.
Pakistan argued before the Untied Nations court that it could prevent Jadhav from speaking to the consulate since he had been arrested on espionage charges. India, however, has claimed Jadhav was no longer enlisted in the Navy at the time of his arrest and was in Iran on business when he was kidnapped by Pakistan.
On Wednesday, the ICJ ruled 15-1 that the Vienna Convention “does not exclude from its scope certain categories of persons, such as those suspected of espionage.” It ordered Pakistan to inform Jadhav’s of his legal rights, allow for India to provide consular access and arrange for his legal representation.
The judges did not go so far as to order Pakistan to annul the decision made by its military court and release Jadhav to India. But it did criticize Pakistan’s existing appeals process and stressed that “the respect for the principles of a fair trial is of cardinal importance.”
“It is essential for the review and reconsideration of the conviction and sentence of Mr. Jadhav to be effective,” the ruling states.
Only Tassaduq Hussain Jillani an ad-hoc judge appointed by Pakistan for this case, disagreed with the court’s ruling. The reading of the ruling was periodically interrupted by someone in the courtroom who had a bad cough.
All ICJ decisions are final and not subject to appeal.
“Truth and justice have prevailed,” Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said in a statement on the ruling.
Pakistan, meanwhile, tried to minimize the loss.
“The International Court of Justice has not acquitted or released the serving naval officer, Kulbhushan Sudhir Jadhav,” said Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Mohammad Faisal.
The Southeast Asian nations have had thorny relations since the Partition of India in 1947, which created Pakistan as a separate country. There have been a number of violent skirmishes between the two, including the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks in which a Pakistan-based group killed 174 people and wounded 300 more.
U.S. President Donald Trump announced in a tweet Wednesday that the man behind the attacks has been arrested.