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Marines will not face death penalty, India assures Italy

Last updated on: March 22, 2013 15:38 IST

The Centre on Friday said India has given assurances to that country that they will not face the death penalty and will not be liable for arrest if they return by the deadline set by the Supreme Court.

Hours after Italy made the announcement -- that the marines will return to face trial in an Indian court -- External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid told Parliament that India had given assurances after clarifications were sought by that country.

Making identical statements in both Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha, he expressed happiness that the matter was being "brought to a satisfactory conclusion" and the trial will now proceed as per the directions of the Supreme Court.

Khurshid said the government was informed through "a diplomatic approach" that Italy would be willing to send the two marines back to India as per its commitment to face trial in the case of the killing of two fishermen in February last year.

"Italy sought from India clarifications regarding the conditions applicable to the marines on their return and the provisions regarding the death penalty that could be applicable in this case, which was an Italian concern.

"Notwithstanding the pending proceedings, the government has informed the Italian government that the two marines will not be liable for arrest if they return within the time frame laid down by the Supreme Court of India," he said.

The Supreme Court had allowed the marines to go to their home country for four weeks to cast votes in general elections. The four-week period expires today.

India also allayed Italy's fears by saying that "according to well-settled Indian jurisprudence, this case would not fall in the category of matters which attract the death penalty, that is to say the rarest of rare cases. Therefore, there need not be any apprehension in this regard," Khurshid said.

At the same time, the external affairs minister said the Supreme Court had ruled that India has the jurisdiction over the case and the marines -- Massimiliano Lattore and Salvatore Giron -- shall "once again be bound by the conditions contained in the order" passed by the Court on January 18.

"The Supreme Court, in its order dated January 18, 2013, in a writ petition filed by the Italian marines and the Republic of Italy raising several jurisdictional issues, had ruled, inter alia, that India has jurisdiction," Khurshid said.

He pointed out that the SC had also ruled that "the matter will be put before a Special Court to be set up by the Union of India in consultation with the Chief Justice of India to try this case and to dispose of the same in accordance with the provisions of the Maritime Zones Act, 1976, the Indian Penal Code, the Code of Criminal Procedure and the provisions of UNCLOS 1982, where there is no conflict between the domestic law and UNCLOS 1982."

In his statement, Khurshid gave details of the sequence of events related to the case.

He noted that after Italy told India on March 11 that the marines will not return on the expiration of the permission granted to them, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had stated that Italy should respect the undertaking given to the Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court, in its order of January 22, had allowed the marines to travel to Italy. The Italian government gave an undertaking to it that the marines "will be kept under its constant custody, supervision and control during this period and took full responsibility for securing" their return to New Delhi "on or before the expiry of the period permitted by the court".

Law Minister Ashwani Kumar said Italy's decision to send back its two marines is a victory of India's Constitution, judicial system and diplomacy.

"The return of Italian marines is a victory of India's Constitution, our diplomacy, judicial system and also vindication of our stand," he told reporters outside Parliament.

"I am delighted at the turn of events. I hope things will be now resolved according to the Indian judicial system in a free and fair manner," he said.

The minister said the decision is also a victory of the government's foreign policy.

"We have always maintained that our judicial process is free and fair. The Italian government has agreed to send marines back to India and this is also the victory of government's foreign policy," he said.

Asked if there are conditions attached to the Italian marines case, the law minister said, "This is only speculation. It is absolutely untrue that there are any pre-conditions to the outcome of the judicial system. Integrity of the Indian judicial system demands that
sentencing and finding fault are left entirely to the independent judgment of the judiciary. What will happen eventually is for the court to decide. There is no room for any misconceived speculation in this regard."

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