The Pakistan government has rushed through the National Assembly a bill to provide the right of appeal to Indian death-row prisoner Kulbhushan Jadhav amidst ruckus and boycott by the Opposition. The lower house of Parliament passed the ICJ (Review and Re-consideration) Bill, 2020 on Thursday. The bill is aimed at allowing Jadhav to have consular access in line with the International Court of Justice (ICJ) verdict.
Jadhav, the 51-year-old retired Indian Navy officer, was sentenced to death by a Pakistani military court on charges of espionage and terrorism in April 2017. India approached the ICJ against Pakistan for denial of consular access to Jadhav and challenging the death sentence.
The Hague-based ICJ ruled in July 2019 that Pakistan must undertake an “effective review and reconsideration” of the conviction and sentence of Jadhav and also to grant consular access to India without further delay. The ICJ, in its 2019 verdict, had asked Pakistan to provide a proper forum for appeal against the sentence given to Jadhav.
The bill was among 21 laws passed by the National Assembly on Thursday evening, ignoring protests by the Opposition lawmakers who wanted the proper reading of bills. But the government suspended rules of business regarding legislation to bulldoze 21 laws in a single sitting.
Speaking after the passage of the bill, Law Minister Farogh Nasim said had they not passed the bill, India would have gone to the UN Security Council and could have moved contempt proceedings against Pakistan in the ICJ. Nasim said the bill was being passed in light of the verdict of the ICJ which had asked Pakistan to provide a credible review opportunity to Jadhav.
He said bypassing the law, they had proved to the world that Pakistan was a “responsible state”. The National Assembly also passed 20 other bills, including the Elections (Amendment) Bill.
The Opposition members staged a walkout and pointed out the lack of quorum three times, but each time the chair declared the House in order and continued the business, forcing the Opposition to resort to noisy protests. The Opposition members gathered in front of the Speaker’s dais and raised slogans.
Criticising the government’s move, Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) lawmaker Ahsan Iqbal pointed out that it had included the bill in the heavy legislative agenda to provide relief to Jadhav. Iqbal said it was a person-specific bill and the name of Jadhav was mentioned in the Statement of Objects and Reasons of the bill.
He said when the country’s law allowed high courts to review the sentences awarded by military courts then what was the need for bringing the law. Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) Chairman Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari asked the Speaker to provide some time to the members to see the bills.
He criticised the government for first bringing the bill to provide relief to Jadhav through an ordinance and then getting it passed through bulldozing the legislation. The bill was introduced last year and approved by the National Assembly’s Standing Committee on Law and Justice on October 21 despite protests by the Opposition members of the committee. Technically, the passage of the bill does not make any difference as the government has already promulgated a special ordinance in May 2020 to implement the verdict of the ICJ. The government has also filed a review in the Islamabad High Court which repeatedly asked the Indian government to appoint a lawyer to represent Jadhav to conclude the review case.
The passage of the bill in the National Assembly is just one step towards the finalisation of the law. It will now be presented in the Senate and if passed by the upper house, without any amendment, it will go to the president for final approval.
If the Senate passed it with an amendment, it will revert to the National Assembly to pass it with the changes. In case of failure to create consensus between the two houses, a joint sitting will be held to pass the bill with a simple majority.