Indian court adjourns hearing of Estonian ship guards’ appeal a third time
The court in India that was scheduled to hear the ship security guards, 14 citizens of Estonia among them, who have appealed the five-year prison sentences they received for entering India with weapons, put off the hearing for the third time.
“The hearing was postponed due to the judge being on vacation,” spokesperson for the Estonian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Maria Belovas, told BNS on Tuesday.
The hearing was initially supposed to take place on Jun. 1, but was postponed by two weeks and then again postponed on Jun. 15.
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.
Estonian authorities meanwhile said that an agreement on the exchange of convicted persons with India may be concluded soon, but it would not be possible to apply it to the ship security guards’ case for as long as the appeal procedure was still under way.
Estonian Foreign Minister Marina Kaljurand discussed the ship guards' case with her Indian counterpart Sushma Swaraj on Jun. 14 and expressed hope that the political procedures for the ratification of the agreement would be completed soon.
The European Union, too, has voiced support for the Estonian and British nationals held in India, saying in a joint statement at the end of the EU-India summit in March that “the EU hopes for a swift solution through the due process of law in India in the case of MV Seaman Guard Ohio, which concerns fourteen Estonian and six UK citizens sentenced to prison by an Indian court.”