India: Estonian ship guards finally get their hearing
The Estonian ship guards finally got their appeal hearing on Wednesday. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs couldn’t comment on details, but said that another hearing would be set. Meanwhile, a bilateral prisoner transfer agreement is still awaiting the Indian government’s approval.
“We can confirm that the hearing in the ship guards’ case took place today,” spokeswoman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Sandra Kamilova, told BNS on Wednesday.
Kamilova was unable to provide details of the hearing, but added that the next one would probably be set for Oct. 25.
Estonian and British ship guards appealed the sentence at the end of January. The appeal hearing was set for Jun. 1, then put off by two weeks, and postponed again on Jun. 15. The date set back then was Jul. 5, but the hearing did not take place then either.
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 Indian territorial waters, and released on bail in April 2014.
The case went through several instances and was eventually returned to the Tuticorin magistrate court by India’s supreme court, which on Jan. 11 this year sentenced the men to five years in prison for entering India with firearms. 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.
Prisoner transfer agreement still awaiting approval
Following deputy secretary general Annely Kolk’s meeting with officials of the Indian Ministry of Home Affairs in August, the Indian ministry forwarded the prisoner transfer agreement to the government for endorsement.
“It will be possible to get the agreement signed as soon as it has been approved by the Indian government and brought into force thereafter,” spokeswoman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Sandra Kamilova, told BNS.
Estonia had brought up the issue of ship guards imprisoned in India at every opportunity with Indian authorities and demanded that the trial be continued without further delay, Kamilova said.
The issue had been raised most recently by Ambassador Riho Kruuv at his Oct. 17 meeting with India’s IT and Justice Minister, Ravi Shankar Prasad, Kamilova added. The ambassador had also brought it up in his meeting with the special secretary of the Indian Ministry of External Affairs, Sujata Mehta, on Oct. 4.
According to Kamilova, the Estonian ambassador and consul met the ship guards more than 20 times. “Ambassador Riho Kruuv and consul Mats Kuuskemaa last visited the prison on Sept. 22. This was preceded by a visit by the Foreign Ministry’s deputy secretary general, Annely Kolk, together with the consul at the beginning of August,” she said.
The embassy and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs are also keeping in touch with the ship guards’ families, and explain information provided by the Indian authority as well as further steps where necessary.