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Indian interior ministry 'says no death penalty for marines'

But wants anti-piracy law be applied to accused Italians

05 February, 12:39
Indian interior ministry 'says no death penalty for marines' (ANSA) - New Delhi, February 5 - The Indian interior ministry has told the attorney general's office not to press for the death penalty against two Italian marines accused of killing two India fishermen during an anti-piracy mission in 2012, according to press reports Wednesday.

But the ministry has nevertheless requested the marines be prosecuted under the severe anti-piracy law, which calls for capital punishment in the case of a guilty verdict, the Indian news agency PTI reported.

Now the diplomatic and political hot potato has been passed to prosecutor G.E. Vahanvati who must quickly find a way to settle the interior ministry's seemingly conflicting requests, the news agency said.

The communication was made during a Tuesday meeting between leaders of the interior ministry, the foreign ministry and the justice ministry, the agency reported.

The foreign and justice ministries have been against using the anti-piracy law precisely because it calls for the death penalty in the case of murder conviction.

Using the anti-piracy law while not requesting capital punishment may be a way for the Indian authorities to keep jurisdiction of the case. Some legal experts have suggested India would lose its claim to jurisdiction over the killings, which took place outside its territorial waters, unless it used the anti-piracy law.

But there are also doubts about whether the anti-piracy law can be applied without the death penalty being the punishment if the marines are found guilty. On the same day as the inter-ministry meeting, European Union High Representative for Foreign Affairs Catherine Ashton and German Ambassador to New Delhi Michael Steiner both expressed support for Rome in the case that has caused nearly two years of tensions between India and Italy.

Massimiliano Latorre and Salvatore Girone are accused of killing two Indian fishermen 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.

Rome has been petitioning the Indian Supreme Court to rule out use of the anti-piracy law and return the marines to Italy.