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India today demanded the immediate suspension of Kulbhushan Jadhav's death sentence, expressing fears that Pakistan could execute him even before the hearing at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) was over.
India's forceful submission was made as the ICJ began hearing the case of the 46-year-old former Navy officer who was arrested on March 3 last year and sentenced to death by a Pakistani military court on charges of espionage and subversive activities.
"Jadhav has not got the right to get proper legal assistance and the right to consular access. There is an immediate threat to him to be executed even before a decision is passed," joint secretary in the Ministry of External Affairs Deepak Mittal told the court in opening remarks.
Eighteen years after the two neighbours last faced off at the ICJ -- when Islamabad sought its intervention over the shooting down of its naval aircraft -- India took up the issue of consular rights to its national and accused Pakistan of violating the Vienna convention and conducting a "farcical trial" without a "shred of evidence".
"The execution of the death sentence cannot be done while this court is hearing the appeal. Else, it will be a violation of the Vienna Convention," lead attorney Harish Salve said.
The urgent hearing comes after the ICJ last week stayed Jadhav's execution. While India presented its argument over 90 minutes, Pakistan, which claims that Jadhav is an agent of India's external intelligence agency Research and Analysis Wing (RAW), gets its turn later in the day.
Pakistan had denied India its 16 requests for consular access, Salve said. "The graver the charges, the greater the need for continued adherence of the Vienna Convention. Jadhav has been in judicial custody without any communication with his family," he said.
The rights of Article 36 of the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations are sacrosanct, Salve said, citing the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) that recognises that no one can be arbitrarily deprived of their lives.
India had not been given the copy of the charges filed against Jadhav. "The need for a wholesome compliance is greater when charges are serious. We want appropriate legal representation for Kulbhushan Jadhav."
Not just had all requests for consular access fallen on "deaf ears", the trial was conducted without providing Jadhav his rights. Pakistan did not even respond to Jadhav's mother's pleas to see her son.
Though Pakistan says Jadhav has the right to appeal, two-star generals will hear his mercy plea, Salve stressed, questioning the impartiality of the process.
Jadhav, the latest flashpoint in the tensions between Pakistan and India, was sentenced last month. On May 8, India moved the ICJ against the death penalty, alleging violation of the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations. On May 9, the highest court in the UN gave Jadhav a lease of life.
India, in its appeal to the ICJ, had asserted that Jadhav was kidnapped from Iran where he was involved in business activities after retiring from the Indian Navy. However, it denies that he has any connection with the government.
Rejecting charges of espionage, it said the Pakistan Foreign Office had made "baseless, contrived and propaganda- driven allegations" against Jadhav.
Pakistan claims to have arrested Jadhav from its restive Balochistan province.