Prisoner exchange agreement with India to be presented to the government soon (1)
For the agreement to work in favor of the Estonian ship guards held by India, the guards first had to drop the appeal of the court sentence against them, Foreign Minister Marina Kaljurand (independent) said in parliament on Wednesday.
"We are preparing alternatives too. The alternative solution is an agreement on the exchange of imprisoned persons with India, the text of which has been agreed on, and the Ministry of Justice is expected to present it to the government for endorsement soon," Kaljurand said, answering a question from opposition MP Mart Helme (EKRE) about the possibility to bring the ship guards jailed in India back to Estonia.
"It will provide the possibility, in the event that the ship guards abandon their appeal, to use the bilateral agreement and to bring them back to Estonia on the basis of that agreement," the minister said.
"Yes, the Indian government has indeed said that, on the political level, they could pardon them and send our citizens back home when the court's decision has entered into effect. The court's decision has not entered into effect," Kaljurand said referring to the ship guards' appeal.
“To bring them to Estonia on the basis of the bilateral agreement, they have to give up the appeal," the minister said. “So far they have preferred to appeal, and it is the duty of the Foreign Ministry and our government to support them in making these decisions as much as possible," Kaljurand said.
India informed Estonia that they initiated their own procedures of approval of the prisoner exchange agreement, Mariann Sudakov, spokesperson for the Foreign ministry, told the Baltic News Service on Wednesday.
Police in India's southernmost state Tamil Nadu arrested 35 crew and maritime security personnel on board the anti-piracy vessel Seaman Guard Ohio in October last year, including 14 Estonian citizens alongside Britons, Ukrainians and Indians. 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 by various court instances, the case was returned by India's Supreme Court to the Tuticorin magistrate court, which on 11 January this year sentenced the men to five years' imprisonment. The ship guards decided at the end of January to appeal the verdict.