Presiding judge Ronny Abraham of France, right, enters to read the World Court's verdict in the case brought by India against Pakistan in The Hague, Netherlands, Thursday, May 18, 2017. India took Pakistan to the United Nations' highest court in an attempt to save the life of an Indian naval officer sentenced to death last month by a Pakistani military court after being convicted of espionage. Image Credit: AP

The Hague, Netherlands/New Delhi: The International Court of Justice on Thursday ordered Pakistan not to execute an Indian naval officer convicted of espionage and terrorism, in a case that has further strained relations between the Asian neighbours.

The UN court ruled unanimously that Pakistan shouldn’t carry out the death penalty on Kulbhushan Jadhav pending the outcome of a case filed by India alleging that Pakistan breached Jadhav’s right to consular assistance following his arrest last year. Jadhav was convicted in Pakistan and sentenced to death on April 10.

“Pakistan shall take all measures at its disposal to ensure that Mr Jadhav is not executed,” court President Ronny Abraham said at a hearing in the ornate, wood-panelled Great Hall of Justice in The Hague.

Asian neighbours Pakistan and India have a history of bitter relations, and Jadhav’s death sentence has further strained ties.

At hearings on Monday, India called Jadhav’s trial a “serious miscarriage of justice” because he wasn’t allowed to see Indian diplomats or choose his own defence lawyer. Indian lawyers argued that those restrictions amounted to a breach of the 1963 Vienna Convention on Consular Relations.

Pakistan argued that Jadhav’s rights weren’t breached and that the court didn’t need to issue an urgent order to stay his execution because it wasn’t imminent. A lawyer for Pakistan added that a bilateral agreement allows either country to decide on consular access in cases involving “political or security” issues.

The case will take months or years to settle at the United Nations’ highest judicial organ, so judges issued Thursday’s order to ensure that Jadhav isn’t executed before the case ends.

Rulings by the court are final and binding on the countries involved.

The political establishment in India welcomed the ICJ ruling.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi expressed satisfaction at the judgement and thanked External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj for her role in securing the verdict.

“I congratulate External Affairs Minister Sushma ji. I also congratulate advocate Harish Salve, who represented India at ICJ,” Modi told journalists.

Swaraj said the ICJ order came as a great relief to Jadhav’s family and the people of India.

“We are grateful to Harish Salve for presenting India’s case so effectively before the ICJ. I assure the nation that under the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi we will leave no stone unturned to save Kulbhushan Jadhav. I compliment my team of officers in the External Affairs Ministry for their tireless efforts and hard work,” Swaraj tweeted.

Defence Minister Arun Jaitley also lauded Salve for his arguments in the court.

“Well done Harish Salve — you have done India Proud. ICJ verdict endorses the relevance and necessity of procedural and substantive fairness which was denied by Pakistan. Congratulations to Sushma Swaraj ji and the entire Hague team. Relief and satisfaction as the ICJ order has come. Rule of law has won,” Jaitley tweeted.

Information and Broadcasting Minister Venkaiah Naidu described the verdict as a “major victory” for India.

“ICJ upholds India’s right to consular access, puts a stay on death execution. Justice prevails. ICJ staying execution of Kulbhushan Jadhav has exposed Pakistan. I am sure final order too will go in our favour. I compliment efforts of Sushma Swaraj ji for taking right initiatives in the case that has led to this major victory and justice,” Naidu said.

Home Minister Rajnath Singh said ICJ’s decision to stay Jadhav’s executive gave people of India a deep sense of satisfaction and relief.

Senior Congress leader Gulam Nabi Azad said “the case against Kulbhushan Jadhav by Pakistan was a sham and was in gross violation of international law as his execution was ordered by a kangaroo court without consular access. It is appreciated that the World Court saw reason in the Indian appeal.”

Congress Spokesperson Manish Tewari said the government must now use ICJ decision as a trigger to bring Jadhav back.

“ICJ has given a favourable decision to India. Now it is the turn of the Indian government to use the order effectively and bring back Jadhav,” Tewari told media.