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Anger over Italian marines trial

Case to be heard in Delhi, not Kerala

By reporter, Thiruvananthapuram

January 21, 2013

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Political parties and fishermen unions in Kerala have criticized a court decision to move the case of two Italian marines, accused of killing two fishermen off the Kerala coast, out of the local jurisdiction.

“There is conspiracy by both the state and federal government,” said opposition leader VS Achuthanandan.

The Supreme Court on Friday ruled that Kerala has no jurisdiction over two Italian marines – Massimiliano Lattore and Salvatore Girone – who allegedly mistook fishermen for pirates and shot them while guarding an oil tanker off the Kerala coast on February 15, 2012.

Achuthanandan, the 89-year-old communist who heads the left alliance in the legislature, said both local and federal governments muddied the case by failing to present facts before the court, which led to the Supreme Court ruling to move the case to the federal courts in New Delhi. The new location will eventually favor the Italians, he said.

Fisherman groups are demanding that the state government files a petition to the Supreme Court to review its judgment.

T Peter, secretary for the National Fish Workers Forum, told the government has yielded to diplomatic pressure from Italy and weakened the case by moving it away from Kerala.

“We have one million fishermen in the state, and the state government feared it would affect its popularity if the state court judgment favored the Italians,” Peter said.

But legal expert Sebastian Paul, a Supreme Court lawyer, told a review petition might not help Kerala get justice for the fishermen who were killed.

He also pointed out that Italy has already paid 10 million Indian rupees (about US$186,000) to each of the families of the victims and 1.7 million rupees to the owner of the boat on which the fishermen were working. The families have also signed a bond stating that they would not file further cases or challenge the decisions of the court in the case.

However, Friday's verdict is contradictory and confusing, Paul said. The Supreme Court wanted a special court to try the Italians as they cannot be tried under Indian Penal Code, but it has not quashed the First Information Report or the base report of the case filed under Indian Penal Code.

The Italians can now challenge the basis of the case filed by the Kerala police, Paul said. They can also challenge the Kerala police investigation now that the court had ruled that Kerala has no jurisdiction over the case.

This has made Kerala people "a laughing stock before the world," said NK Premachandran, former minister of state who represented coastal Chavara area in the parliament.

Italy has “played its cards very well to save its marines. It shows that you can kill poor fishermen for 20 million rupees and get away with it if you pull some strings,” he said.

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