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Italian marines in India 'won't face death penalty'

Long-awaited ruling postponed one week

03 February, 16:49
Italian marines in India 'won't face death penalty' (By Christopher Livesay) (ANSA) - New Delhi, February 3 - Italy was given reason to be optimistic Monday about the future of two marines who possibly face capital punishment in India for allegedly killing two fishermen there. According to ANSA sources, the government in New Delhi has decided not to use an anti-piracy law that carries the death penalty against them. Italy has been petitioning the Indian supreme court to rule out the harsh law against Massimiliano Latorre and Salvatore Girone, gaining the support of the European Union, which has threatened economic consequences. The pair are accused of killing fishermen Valentine (aka Gelastine) and Ajesh Binki after allegedly mistaking them for pirates and opening fire on their fishing trawler while guarding the privately owned Italian-flagged oil-tanker MT Enrica Lexie off the coast of Kerala on February 15, 2012.

Staffan De Mistura, Italy's special envoy assigned to the case, told ANSA the report has no effect on the country's efforts to bring the pair home as the Indian justice system determines what to do next. "I do not usually respond to reports of the press, positive or negative," said De Mistura. "Anyway, this does not make us change course". Earlier Monday, an Indian court postponed for another week a long-awaited ruling on how authorities should proceed against the marines.

"We asked the court, given the indecision of the prosecution, to authorize the marines' return to Italy," De Mistura told ANSA. "We'll repeat this request again next Monday, regardless of the decision.

"The prosecution can no longer play with time. We have calculated with our lawyer 25 judicial postponements without one piece of documentation". Italy had previously been given assurances from India's foreign ministry that the pair would not face the death penalty.

But the India's interior ministry contradicted those promises by approving the application of the law tough law. Italy responded with a petition to the Indian Supreme Court, which argued that the pair should be released due to long delays in the pre-trial process, following their arrest almost two years ago.

It also called on Indian magistrates to "immediately press charges without recurring to the anti-terrorism law," and to let the marines return to Italy to wait until they actually stand trial, judicial sources in Italy have said.

As well, the petition complained that it is unclear whether the investigation has been concluded since no charges have been filed.

It also argued that invoking the anti-terrorism act would be tantamount to calling Italy a terrorist state.

On Monday the Italian premier voiced his frustration. "This can't go on any longer. We've been waiting for two years," said Enrico Letta. "There's no more time for further delays. India needs to put its cards on the table this week.

"For us this is a very serious affair".

On Friday, the Italian president commented on the affair, calling India's handling of it "contradictory and disconcerting".