Italians saved from India’s death penalty law

India on Friday announced it would not prosecute two Italian marines accused of killing two fishermen under a maritime security law that carries a mandatory death penalty.

Italians saved from India's death penalty law
Massimiliano Latorre (L) and Salvatore Girone have been accused of murder over the shooting deaths of two fishermen off the coast of Kerala. Photo: AFP/STR

New Delhi's plans to try the men under the maritime security law had drawn strong protests from Rome which feared the move would result in violation of an earlier Indian government pledge not to seek execution of the two marines.

"The NIA (National Investigation Agency) will not be prosecuting the marines now," home ministry spokesman K.S. Dhatwalia said.

"The ministry had earlier given permission to the NIA to prosecute the marines. That decision has now been revised," he said.

India's next step in the prosecution of the marines was not immediately clear.

The marines were accused of murder over the shooting deaths of two fishermen off the coast of Kerala while serving as security guards on an Italian-flagged cargo ship in February 2012. The case sparked a diplomatic row between India and Italy.

Massimiliano Latorre and Salvatore Girone say they mistook the fishing boat for a pirate vessel and only fired warning shots.

India has dragged its feet in starting a trial, with legal experts attributing the delay to uncertainty over which law to use to prosecute the men.

The delay prompted the Italian marines last month to ask India's Supreme Court to drop murder charges against them and allow them to return home.

READ MORE: Italian marines ask India to drop murder case

To speed up the process, the top court on Monday gave the Indian government a week to make a final decision on prosecution of the marines.

Italy insists the pair should be prosecuted on home soil as the shootings involved an Italian-flagged vessel in international waters. India says the killings took place in waters under its jurisdiction. 

The marines have been given bail and are staying at the Italian embassy in New Delhi. They were allowed to go home to vote in elections and returned to India for trial in March last year. Rome initially refused to send them back to India, triggering a bitter diplomatic stand-off between the two countries.

India, which uses the death penalty in what it says are the "rarest of rare cases", assured Italy at the time of the men's return that they would not face execution if found guilty.

The return of the two marines to India caused huge controversy in Rome and prompted Italy's foreign minister to resign in protest.

Don't miss a story about Italy – Join us on Facebook and Twitter.

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.


India court grants marine three-month Italy stay

India's top court on Thursday allowed an Italian marine detained for the 2012 killing of two fishermen another three months at home to recover from heart surgery.

India court grants marine three-month Italy stay
Massimiliano Latorre is now due to fly back to India in July. Photo: Vincenzo Pinto/AFP

Massimiliano Latorre and fellow marine Salvatore Girone shot the fishermen while serving as part of an anti-piracy mission off southern India in 2012 in a case that has sparked a diplomatic row between the two countries.

Both marines were barred from leaving India pending trial, but Latorre was given permission to travel to Italy for heart surgery last year. Italian reports said the surgery was a minor procedure to correct a congenital heart defect.

He had been due to return to India this month, but the Supreme Court ruled on Thursday that he could stay for another three months after his lawyers said he had developed complications.

Judge Anil R. Dave said the Italian ambassador to India had given a fresh undertaking that Latorre would fly back in July.

Girone is living at Italy's embassy in Delhi. He and Latorre say they mistook the fishing boat for a pirate vessel and fired what were intended to be warning shots.

Italy says the pair should be tried on home soil since the shootings involved an Italian-flagged vessel in what it says were international waters.

India, however, maintains the killings took place in waters under its jurisdiction.

In December, Rome threatened to withdraw its ambassador from India after a court rejected Latorre's request for medical leave, a ruling that was later overturned.

The marines were granted home visits to vote in national elections in 2013, but India was furious when the Italian government initially said it would not send the men back.

A subsequent U-turn, which followed intense Indian diplomatic pressure, triggered the resignation of Italy's then foreign minister.