At a meeting with Indian Minister of State for External Affairs Mobashar Jawed Akbar, Minister of Foreign Affairs Sven Mikser expressed grave disappointment that the case concerning Estonian ship guards sentenced to prison in India still has yet to be resolved.
"The last court session was held back in November 2016," Mikser pointed out at their meeting in Tallinn on Saturday. "We are waiting for India to quickly solve that question." He noted that this delayed case was hindering relations between Estonia and India.
"Relations between Estonia and India are diverse and constructive, but there are still opportunities to develop them further," the Estonian minister said. "There is considerable potential for growth in mutual trade, considering on one hand India's large market and growing economy and, on the other, Estonia's EU membership."
Mikser said that one of the most important fields of cooperation between the two countries was in the IT and cyber fields and that Estonia is ready to share its relevant experiences with India.
"For India to be well represented in the EU, the country should also have an embassy in Tallinn," he added.
Other topics discussed at the meeting included the EU-India summit scheduled to take place in October 2017, during Estonia's presidency of the Council of the EU. Mikser also introduced to Akbar Estonia's campaign to become a non-permanent member of the UN Security Council in 2020-2021.
Three and a half years since ship guards' arrest
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 of this year 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 before finally taking place in October and November. The court wrapped up the appeal hearings on Nov. 30.
On Nov. 15, Estonia and India signed an agreement on the transfer of sentenced persons, ratified by the Riigikogu in February 2017, whereby Indian and Estonian citizens sentenced to prison in the other country could serve out their sentences in their respective home country. The agreement cannot be applied to the Estonian ship guards until their sentence has taken effect, however, which means that the ship guards would first have to drop their appeal.
Editor: Aili Vahtla