On June 11, in a bold move, Pakistan’s national assembly managed to pass a bill that would give the Indian national and ex-Naval officer Kulbhushan Jadhav the right to appeal against charges of espionage. Kulbhushan Jadhav was awarded death sentence by a Pakistan military court in April 2017. In May the same year, India approached the International Court of Justice (ICJ) at the Hague, complaining that Pakistan had denied India consular access to Kulbhushan. The ICJ stayed the death sentence till the case was adjudicated.
In July 2019, the ICJ delivered its verdict, demanding that Pakistan review the death sentence awarded to Kulbhushan. Forced by the ICJ verdict, Pakistan granted India consular access to Kulbhushan. It is in the light of the ICJ verdict, which states that Kulbhushan should be granted the right to appeal, that the Pakistan National Assembly passed the bill that would now allow the right of appeal to Kulbhushan.
The question, however, is who will be reviewing the appeal when it is submitted? Given the hostile domestic environment in Pakistan towards India in general and Kulbhushan in particular, there is convincing evidence that the decision against the appeal will be influenced by forces that manipulate public opinion to exert pressure on the judicial system and the subsequent decisions taken by Pakistani courts. Hence, Pakistan must allow Indian lawyers access to Kulbhushan and prepare his appeal against the death sentence as well as his honourable repatriation to India.
The court that should be set up to listen to the arguments of the defendant should comprise judges from a neutral country and the hearing should also take place in a neutral country. Meanwhile, in my opinion, Kulbhushan should be transferred to a prison in a neutral country too. His life is in danger in Pakistan since the negative hype created by the media and right-wing clergy in Pakistan has already affected the psyche of the majority of Pakistani population—that Kulbhushan is guilty of involvement in anti-Pakistani state activities.
No substantial proof of Kulbhushan’s involvement in espionage activities has thus far convincingly been established. All we know is that he was an Indian businessman trading in Iran who was allegedly kidnapped and brought to Pakistan.
To ensure that Kulbhushan gets a fair hearing during the appeal, he must be transferred to a prison in a neutral country where a neutral panel of judges should hear the arguments presented against the accusations made by the Pakistani military. Currently, Kulbhushan remains in the custody of the Pakistan military.