Speaking with his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi on the phone yesterday, Prime Minister Jüri Ratas (Center) emphasized the need to quickly resolve the case of Estonian ship guards imprisoned in India who have been awaiting the verdict of their appeal for eight months.
Ratas and Modi discussed the case of the Estonian ship guards imprisoned in India, and Ratas expressed regret that eight months following the conclusion of appeal hearings, the Tamil Nadu court has yet to announce a verdict.
"We respect the independence of the Indian judicial system and will not interfere with the court proceeding, but one of the principles of fair trial is receiving a verdict in a reasonable amount of time — epecially in a situation in which foreigners, in this case Estonians, are far from home and awaiting the decision in prison," Ratas said. "The ship guards as well as their next of kin have been waiting for a verdict since last November. The Estonian government and Ministry of Foreign Affairs are workin toward the process, which has lasted nearly four years, reaching a conclusion."
According to Ratas, the case of the ship guards casts a shadow over Estonia and India's good bilateral relations, which would benefit from this case being resolved.
"I really hope that cooperation between the Estonian and Indian governments helps find a solution to the ship guards' court case and that our men will return home," said Ratas.
In addition to the matter of the Estonian ship guards, the two heads of government discussed the key topics of Estonia's EU presidency, in particular topics concerning a digital Europe.
Ratas expressed hope that India will open an embassy in Tallinn in the future. He also invited Modi to visit Estonia.
Nearly four 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