By B. Raman
1. An over-anxiety on the part of the Government of India to oblige the Italian Government on the issue of the two Italian Marines, who have been charged with killing two Kerala fishermen wrongly mistaking them for pirates in an incident that took place on February 15, 2012, has created suspicions in public mind on the bona fides of the Government of India.
The Italian Marines were posted as sentries on board a private Italian tanker at the time of the incident.
2. The following two questions arose as a result of the incident: (a). Was the Italian contention that the fishermen approached their ship in an aggressive manner thereby giving the impression that they were pirates corroborated by other evidence? (b)Did the incident take place in Indian territorial waters or outside?
3. The Italian contention was that the incident took place outside Indian territorial waters and that the fishermen definitely appeared to be approaching the Italian tanker with hostile intention, which gave the Marines the right to open fire in self-defence.
4. The Indian contention was that the incident took place in Indian waters and that the Kerala fishermen were unarmed. Hence, the question of their approaching the Italian vessel in a hostile manner did not arise.
5. India rejected Italy’s demand that the case should be tried before an Italian court in Italy. Having rejected the Italian contention, India should have vigorously gone ahead in prosecuting the Italian Marines. It did not do so.
6. On the contrary, special facilities were given to the accused Italian Marines and there was a definite half-heartedness in proceeding against them. They were released on bail and allowed to stay in a hotel at the expense of the Italian Embassy. They were allowed to go to Italy to spend Christmas with their families---an extraordinary gesture to under-trials in a murder case. Even though they were supposed to be in Indian judicial custody, they were not accompanied to Italy by Indian guards. However, they returned from Italy after Christmas as promised by the Italian Embassy in New Delhi.
7. On January 18, 2013, the Indian Supreme Court had ruled that the Kerala Government had no jurisdiction to prosecute the marines and had directed the Union government to constitute a special court in consultation with the Chief Justice of India (CJI) for fresh trial.
8. There was a delay in constituting the special court, which led the Supreme Court to observe as follows: "Why is the Centre dragging its feet over the matter? Nobody has initiated any consultation process till now."