Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti on Friday called up external affairs minister Salman Khurshid to express concern about the possibility that the two Italian marines held in India for killing two Indian fishermen last year could face the death penalty despite India’s earlier clarification to the contrary.
The move came a day after the National Investigation Agency (NIA) invoked a tough maritime safety law — which provides for only the death penalty on conviction — against the marines. This is section 3 of the Suppression of Unlawful Acts against Safety of Maritime Navigation and Fixed Platforms on Continental Shelf Act, 2002 (SUA).
Rome has reportedly complained about India going back on what it had said about the death penalty’s applicability in this case when Italy decided to send the marines back last month.
“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 had said while informing Parliament about Italy’s reversal of its initial decision to not send the marines back.
The call by Monti followed a meeting between Khurshid and Italian deputy foreign minister Staffan de Mistura, Rome’s key interlocutor with New Delhi on the issue. “Khurshid provided the Italian deputy foreign minister an update on the developments since their meeting last month. He also informed him of the steps being taken in compliance with Supreme Court directions and intentions of the government to inform the court on April 16 of the efforts made to constitute a special court,” official sources said.
Italy has maintained that India doesn’t have jurisdiction to try the marines. But invocation of the SUA is being seen as India’s assertion to the contrary. The SUA also needed to be invoked for handing over of the case to the NIA.
The marines —Massimiliano Latorre and Salvatore Girone — were allowed to go to Italy in February to vote in the general elections. But the Italian foreign ministry announced on March 11 that the marines would not return to India. On March 21, they backtracked and sent the marines back.