India drops anti-piracy law against two Italian marines

No death penalty for foreign sailors in fishermen killing case

By T K Devasia

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Published: Wed 26 Feb 2014, 12:13 AM

Last updated: Sat 4 Apr 2015, 12:43 AM

Contrary to federal Defence Minister A K Antony’s assertion, India has backtracked on the law under which two Italian marines were sought to be prosecuted for allegedly killing two Indian fishermen off the Kerala coast. New Delhi has dropped the plan to prosecute the sailors under the tough anti-piracy law, said a government lawyer on Monday.

While Antony had told reporters in Cochin on Sunday that the Indian law would take its own course in the case, the federal government informed the Supreme Court on Monday that the stringent SUA (Suppression of Unlawful Acts against the Safety of Maritime Navigation) Act that usually carries death penalty would not be imposed on the two marines.

A division bench of the apex court headed by Justice B S Chouhan did not consider Kerala government’s objection against dropping the stringent anti-piracy law. At the same time the bench has posted the Italian plea for closure of the case for hearing after two weeks.

The Italian government has sought the closure of the case arguing that the National Investigation Agency (NIA) that investigated the case had no jurisdiction to probe the case without SUA. The Supreme Court said it would examine if NIA or some other agency will handle the probe.

The family members of the two fishermen Ajesh Binki and Gelastine who were shot dead by the marines Massimiliano Latorre and Salvatore Girone while guarding the oil tanker Enrica Lexi feel that the government of India had diluted the case due to international pressure.

There were reports that the External Affairs Ministry had urged the Law Ministry to drop the anti-piracy law after the European Union and NATO intervened in favour of Italy. The Law Ministry subsequently concurred with the External Affairs Ministry plea.

Attorney General G E Vahanvati, who appeared in the case on Monday, told the apex court that the federal government had accepted the Law Minister’s view. The government said that the sailors would not face the death penalty, which the anti-piracy law usually carries.

“We want to delete the anti-piracy clause,” Vahanvati said.

However, he opposed the Italian plea challenging the NIA jurisdiction saying that the agency could probe any case on the direction of the court.

Apart from SUA, the NIA has slapped charges under Sections 302 (murder), 307 (attempt to murder), 427 (mischief), with Section 34 (common intent) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) against the two marines in the first information report they have filed in the special court.

The high profile case, investigated initially by the Kerala police, was handed over to the NIA after the apex court ruled out the state’s jurisdiction to prosecute the marines.

The Italian government from the beginning has been challenging even the Indian jurisdiction saying that the incident had taken place in international waters.

The National Fish Workers Forum has condemned the government decision to drop the charges under SUA in the case. A statement issued by forum national president T Peter here accused the government of bowing before Italy. He warned that the federal government’s failure to protect the lives of the fishermen would reflect in the coming elections.

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