European Union heat on India over Italian marines

India came under renewed pressure from Italy and the European Union over the trial of the two Italian marines, even as New Delhi seems to be in a dilemma over application of a harsh law against the duo, who are accused of killing two Indian fishermen off the coast of Kerala in February 2012.

Jose Manuel Durao Barroso, the president of the EU’s executive body European Commission, said that “any decision” by the Indian government might have “an impact on overall relation” between the 28-nation bloc and India.

 A press release issued after Barroso’s meeting with Italian Prime Minister Enrico Letta on Wednesday quoted the EC president saying that the EU was opposed to the use death penalty in all cases and under any circumstances.

Rome too stepped up pressure on New Delhi. Fabrizio Cicchitto, the chairman of the foreign affairs committee of the lower house of Italian Parliament, was quoted by a news agency saying that if the two marines were awarded death penalty it would be “an attack on Italy” by India.

Cicchitto is one of the 16 members of the Italian Parliament who recently met the two marines —Massimiliano Latorre and Salvatore Girone — at the Italian Embassy in New Delhi.

The EU envoy to India, Joao Cravinho, too recently reminded New Delhi that the Indian government had given a commitment in March 2013 that the death penalty would not be sought for the two marines.

He was obviously referring to the clarification New Delhi had given to Rome in March 2013 that the case against the marines would not fall in the “rarest of rare” category and thus would not attract death penalty.

What triggered concerns in Rome and Brussels is the recent sanction the Indian Ministry of Home Affairs gave to the National Investigation Agency to invoke the Suppression of Unlawful Acts against Safety of Maritime Navigation and Fixed Platforms on Continental Shelf Act, or the SUA Act, which has provisions of capital punishment for causing death.

The government, however, has now asked for a review of the Attorney General G E Vahanvati’s opinion about applicability of the SUA Act in the case.

The Attorney General is expected to present the government’s view before the Supreme Court on February 3 —the date set for the next hearing in the case.
Vahanvati told the Supreme Court on January 20 that the Ministry of Law was looking into the issue of invoking the SUA Act.

The NIA on Thursday told a special court in New Delhi that it was ‘ready’ with a charge sheet against the marines and would file it after the Supreme Court decides on the plea of the Italian government challenging invocation of the SUA Act.

Massimilano and Salvadore were arrested by the Kerala Police on February 19 for allegedly opening fire at an Indian fishing vessel from onboard MV Enrica Lexie, which was on its way from Singapore to Egypt.

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