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'No chance' of Italian marines facing death penalty

Question of capital punishment 'totally excluded' says envoy

09 January, 16:36
'No chance' of Italian marines facing death penalty (By Sandra Cordon) (ANSA) - New Delhi, January 9 - There is no chance that two Italian marines, accused of murdering two Indian fishermen in 2012, will face the death penalty in India, Italian government envoy Staffan De Mistura said Thursday.

He repeated assurances made earlier by India's foreign affairs minister, reiterating a longstanding guarantee from India that the death penalty will not be used in the controversial case.

"The question of applying the death penalty to the marines has long been totally excluded, both in past statements by Indian Foreign Minister Salman Khurshid," and the minister's more recent comments, said De Mistura.

Khurshid repeated his assurances in an interview aired Thursday on the CNN-IBM network, building on guarantees previously given by the Indian government.

The question of capital punishment for the marines hit the headlines again this week when India's anti-terrorist National Investigation Agency (NIA) applied for custody of the two marines, triggering fears that it may press for the two marines to face the death penalty.

Last year, there were concerns about the NIA's involvement and fears it would try to apply a severe 2002 law designed to fight terrorism in international waters.

The 2002 anti-terrorism law calls for capital punishment in the case of conviction for homicide.

As a result, on Wednesday lawyers representing the marines had a hearing in their trial in New Delhi postponed until January 30, amid fears that prosecutors wanted to press for capital punishment.

De Mistura said at that time he would use the next few weeks to ensure that there is no doubt that capital punishment is excluded in the case.

The two marines have been allowed some liberty and are working at the Italian embassy in the Indian capital.

Massimiliano Latorre and Salvatore Girone are accused of killing Valentine (aka Gelastine) and Ajesh Binki on February 15, 2012, when the marines allegedly opened fire on the Indians' fishing trawler from the privately owned Italian-flagged oil-tanker MT Enrica Lexie. The shooting occurred just off the coast of Kerala in southern India, near traditional Indian fishing grounds in the Laccadive Sea. The incident sparked a diplomatic row between the governments of India and Italy, stemming from a conflict of opinions over legal jurisdiction and functional immunity.

The Italian government has repeated its intentions to see the case resolved and the two marines returned home safely.

Earlier in 2013, the government expressed optimism the pair would be home for Christmas, but numerous legal snags have slowed the process.

One serious snag occurred when the two marines, allowed a four-week parole to return to Italy to vote in the February 2013 general election, remained rather than returning to India as promised.

The pair had earlier been permitted to come to Italy for Christmas 2012 and returned to India after the holidays.

After a drawn-out diplomatic row, Italy agreed to hand the men back to Indian authorities in March 2013 despite contesting India's right to jurisdiction, given the incident took place in international waters.