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India, Pakistan 'spy' row heads for UN top court amid tensions

3 min

The Hague (AFP)

India will on Monday renew its bid to persuade international judges to take an alleged spy off death row in Pakistan, in a controversial court case as fresh bloodshed in Kashmir sends tensions between the neighbours soaring.

Kulbhushan Sudhir Jadhav, a former Indian navy officer, was arrested in the restive southwestern Pakistani province of Baluchistan in March 2016 on charges of espionage and sentenced to death by a military court.

India insists Jadhav was not a spy and that he was kidnapped in Pakistan. New Delhi is asking that the International Court of Justice order Islamabad to annul the sentence, according to in court documents.

The country's lawyers will on Monday renew their arguments on their broader case for Jadhav's release before the ICJ, which in 2017 ordered Pakistan to stay Jadhav's execution.

The rare foray into the international courts for the nuclear-armed rivals could be another flashpoint after Thursday's massive suicide bombing in Indian-administered Kashmir that killed 41 troops.

Indian troops suffered new losses Monday in a fierce battle with Kashmir militants that left at least seven more dead.

The latest confrontation piled more pressure on the Indian government, which has blamed Pakistan for Thursday's suicide attack on a paramilitary convoy that sparked widespread calls for action against the country's neighbour.

Jadhav was accused of working for the Indian intelligence services in the province bordering Afghanistan, where Islamabad has long accused India of backing separatist rebels.

After a closed trial he was sentenced to death by a Pakistani military court on April 10, 2017, on charges of "espionage, sabotage and terrorism".

- 'Release forthwith' -

India accused Islamabad of violating the Vienna Convention by failing to provide him with consular access, as well as breaking human rights law.

If Pakistan does not quash Jadhav's death sentence, Islamabad should be found in violation of international law and treaties, and be told to "release the convicted Indian national forthwith", India said.

Islamabad reacted coolly to the ICJ's urgent order to stay Jadhav's execution at the time, saying it "has not changed the status of commander Jadhav's case in any manner".

The ICJ's decision will likely come months after this week's hearings.

The death row spy case comes as the troubled ties between India and Pakistan risked taking a dangerous new turn following the Kashmir unrest.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi warned last week that Pakistan would pay a "heavy price" after local media reported that the Pakistan-based Jaish-e-Mohammed Islamist group claimed responsibility for Thursday's bombing.

Kashmir has been split between India and Pakistan since independence from Britain in 1947 with both countries, which have fought three wars, claiming it as their own.

India and Pakistan also routinely accuse each other 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.

Death sentences however have been rarely issued in recent years.

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