India insists Kulbhushan Sudhir Jadhav, a former navy officer, was not a spy (PUNIT PARANJPE )

The Hague (AFP) – Islamabad should be ordered to free an Indian man sentenced to death for alleged spying in Pakistan, India’s lawyers told the UN’s top court Monday, saying his military trial was a “farcical case” based on “malicious propaganda”.

The hearing concerning Kulbushan Sudhir Jadhav at the International Court of Justice comes amid a sharp spike in tensions between the two nuclear-armed neighbours, after a suicide attack on an Indian military convoy last week and renewed fighting in restive Kashmir.

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 in 2017.

India insists Jadhav, 48, was not a spy and that he was kidnapped in Pakistan. New Delhi is now asking the ICJ — which rules in disputes between countries — to nullify his sentence and to order Islamabad to set him free.

– ‘Unlawful’ –

“Considering the trauma he (Jadhav) has been subjected to over the past three years, it would be in the interest of justice of making human rights a reality, to direct his release,” India’s lawyer Harish Salve told the judges.

“India seeks relief in declaring that the trial by the military court in Pakistan… hopelessly fails to satisfy even minimum standards of due process… and should be declared unlawful,” he said, speaking at the Peace Palace, the ICJ’s headquarters in The Hague.

India’s joint secretary at its External Affairs Ministry, Deepak Mittal, told the court the proceedings against Jadhav in Pakistan were based on a “farcical case” and “malicious propaganda”.

New Delhi’s renewed bid in a controversial court case comes as fresh bloodshed in Kashmir sent tensions between the neighbours soaring.

The rare foray into the international courts by India and Pakistan could be another flashpoint after Thursday’s 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 the suicide attack that sparked widespread calls for action against its neighbour.

Pakistan has rejected the allegations.

– ‘Blurry on facts’ –

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”.

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

Pakistan’s “story has always been strong on rhetoric and blurry on facts,” Salve said, adding that consular access should be granted immediately.

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

Islamabad’s lawyers are to state their case on Tuesday.

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

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.

The last time India and Pakistan took a dispute to the ICJ was in 1999 when Islamabad protested at the downing of a Pakistani navy plane that killed 16 people.

The tribunal decided that it was not competent to rule in the dispute and closed the case.

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