Updated: October 16, 2020 8:11:14 am
THE INDIAN High Commission in Pakistan Thursday moved the Islamabad High Court for the release of four Indian nationals convicted by military courts on charges of alleged espionage, and who remain imprisoned long after they had completed their sentence — in one case, more than 13 years ago. The Constitutional petition filed by the High Commission through First Secretary Aparna Ray — the four men and the mission are the petitioners — says their continued incarceration is “illegal” and “unjusitified” as it violates Pakistan’s own laws and is “against the dictums of the superior courts of the country”.
The petition comes up for hearing Friday before Justice Mohsin Akhtar Kayani.The petition seeks their release “in the interest of justice, fair play and equality”. It asks the court to declare their custody, after the completion of their sentences, as “illegal, unlawful, unprecedented, result of colourable exercise of authority, based on malafide, abuse of process of law” and “amount[ing] to illegal detention” under the Constitution of Pakistan.
The respondents are the Ministries of Interior and Foreign Affairs of Pakistan.
The petition names the four men as Birju Dung Dung, Vigyan Kumar, Satish Bhog and Sonu Singh. The first three are in Central Jail Lahore, and the fourth in District Prison (Malir) Karachi. According to the petition, Dung Dung’s sentence ended in April 2007, Singh’s in March 2012, Kumar’s in June 2014 and Bhog’s in May 2015.
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The petition, filed under Article 199 of the Pakistan Constitution, says the prisoners were arrested by Pakistani authorities, and charged and convicted by military courts under Section 59 of the Pakistan Army Act, which is the section on “civil offences” used for espionage-related charges, and under provisions of its Official Secrets Act.
These are the same sections used against Kulbhushan Jadhav, the former Naval official arrested in Pakistan in April 2017, who was also tried in a military court, convicted of terrorism and espionage, and sentenced to death. Proceedings in military courts are conducted secretly and specific charges are not made public.
The petition states that the four men had not committed any offence and were victims of “abuse of law” from their arrest to conviction. It invokes the right to life and liberty under Pakistan’s Constitution, and says the prisoners are being deprived of legitimate rights due to “extraneous considerations and severe background of hostility”.
It also says the High Commission presented several notes verbale (diplomatic communication) to Pakistan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs for the release and repatriation of the four men, but to no avail.
The Islamabad court is separately hearing the Jadhav case following the International Court of Justice’s ruling that Pakistan is “under an obligation to provide, by means of its own choosing, effective review and reconsideration of the conviction and sentence” by the military court.
The High Court had asked India to appoint a lawyer to represent Jadhav, but Delhi has so far refused to do so, saying it must be allowed to appoint an Indian lawyer and given free consular access to him and his case papers. Islamabad insists that Jadhav can only have a Pakistani lawyer.
Earlier this month, Ministry of External Affairs spokesman Anurag Shrivastav said Pakistan had “failed to respond on core issues pertaining to this case, and the core issues are provision of all documents related to the case and providing unimpeded, unconditional and unhindered consular access to Kulbhushan Jadhav”.
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