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Italian marines in India 'may face death penalty'

Hindustan Times says DIA report seeks to apply severe law

10 January, 14:39
Italian marines in India 'may face death penalty' (ANSA) - New Delhi, January 10 - One day after official assurances to the contrary, India's anti-terrorist National Investigation Agency (NIA) could be pressing for two Italian marines accused of murdering two Indian fishermen in 2012 to face the death penalty, an Indian newspaper reported Friday.

The NIA is about to receive approval from the Indian interior ministry to present a report on Italian marines Massimiliano Latorre and Salvatore Girone which would apply a severe 2002 law designed to fight terrorism in international waters, reported the Hindustan Times. The 2002 anti-terrorism law calls for capital punishment in the case of conviction for homicide.

The paper cited an unidentified, high-ranking government source as saying "there is an agreement" between government ministers to allow the move.

Italy's minister of defence blamed Indian politics for the report and vowed that Italy would stand by its marines. "It is clear that the election campaign in India is approaching in a bullying way. The Italian government will show the necessary firmness on the marines," Mario Mauro on Friday told Italian Radio Anch'io.

The Indian press report came one day after Indian and Italian government representatives said there was no chance that the two Italian marines would face the death penalty. Italian envoy to India Staffan De Mistura 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 NIA applied for custody of the two marines, triggering fears that it may seek the death penalty.

Last year, there were concerns about the NIA's involvement and fears it would try to apply the 2002 anti-terrorism law.

As a result, on Wednesday lawyers representing the marines had a hearing in their trial in New Delhi postponed until January 30, amid new 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.

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.