The Riigikogu ratified the prisoner transfer agreement between Estonia and India on Wednesday; India has already ratified the agreement.
Marko Mihkelson, chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Riigikogu, told ERR's online news portal that the ratified agreement is one step closer to ensuring that there would be no legal barriers to bringing Estonian ship guards arrested in India back home, should a prisoner exchange agreement be reached.
"This creates the prerequisite and opportunity to transfer our ship guards at some point by applying this, but that is not automatic," said Mihkelson. "Unfortunately all of these procedures have been very time-consuming. It is important for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to keep up that which they have been doing."
The committee chairman added that he had no complaints about the diplomats and the ministry regarding this matter and that, in his opinion, they have done everything they can to bring the Estonian men home from India.
The Foreign Affairs Committee will discuss the matter in mid-March.
Agreement signed last fall
Last November, Estonia and India signed a prisoner transfer agreement according to which citizens of India or Estonia criminally convicted in the opposite country may carry out their sentences in their home country instead.
The agreement can be applied if conditions for the transfer have been met and both countries as well as the prisoner themselves agree to the transfer.
The agreement may be of assistance in bringing home Estonian ship guards that were arrested and sentenced to prison in India, however the agreement cannot be applied until a sentence has entered into force, which means that the guards would first have to drop their appeal.
Ship guards arrested more than three years ago
On Oct. 18, 2013, police in Tamil Nadu arrested 35 crew and security personnel on board the anti-piracy vessel Seaman Guard Ohio, including 14 Estonian citizens as well as citizens of the UK, Ukraine and India. They were charged in December of the same year with illegal refueling, illegal handling of firearms and illegal entry into territorial waters, and released on bail in April 2014.
After being handled in various court instances, the case was returned by India's Supreme Court to the Tuticorin Magistrate Court which on Jan. 11, 2016 sentenced the men to five years' imprisonment for entering India with weapons. At the end of January, the ship guards decided to appeal the verdict and applied for bail. The bail application was rejected on Feb. 29, but the court decided to continue appeal hearings, which were subsequently postponed multiple times.
The most recent hearing in which the ship guards testified took place in India on Nov. 8.
Editor: Aili Vahtla