Two Italian naval guards charged with the killing of two Indian fishermen off Kerala coast were today remanded in three-day police custody by a Magistrate who rejected their contention that they cannot be prosecuted under Indian law.
First Class Judicial Magistrate K P Joy, at whose Karunagapally residence in Kollam district the marines were produced amid tight security, remanded the two accused in judicial custody till March 5, but handed them over to investigators for three days accepting a police plea for further questioning.
Latore Massimiliano and Salvatore Girone, arrested by Kerala Police on Monday, could not be produced in a regular court as it was a holiday due to Mahashivratri festival.
According to prosecution lawyer Anil Kumar, the magistrate rejected the contention of the marines that they could not be prosecuted under Indian law since the firing occurred beyond Indian territorial waters. The marines were represented by lawyer V J Mathew.
Kumar later told reporters that police might seek extension of the custody of the two accused if the interrogation and investigation required it. The marines have been charged with murder under Section 302 of the IPC.
During the 90-minute proceedings, besides the investigators, lawyers of prosecution, the accused and an interpreter for the Italian guards were allowed inside.
Activists of Congress, CPI(M)and its student wing Democratic Youth Federation of India(DYFI) staged a protest demanding maximum punishment to the two guards as they were brought to the magistrate's residence.
Italian foreign minister Giulio Terzi meanwhile said there were "considerable differences" with India over the killing of the fishermen mistaken for pirates by the marines onboard the cargo vessel 'Enrica Lexie' on Wednesday.
"There are currently considerable differences of a legal character. Up to now I have not seen the co-operation between India and Italy that would be desirable and would allow a quick resolution," Terzi was quoted as having said in Rome.
Italy has said the two marines have immunity from Indian law as the merchant vessel was flying with an Italian flag in international waters as it sailed from Singapore to Egypt when the firing incident occured on Wednesday. India has maintained that the accused must face justice in local courts.
The two men, who were in their uniform, were brought to Kollam for court proceedings from Kochi where they were arrested yesterday.
The arrest of the two men, part of the six-member security detail of the ship from Italian Navy, climaxed four days of hard negotiations between India and Italy over the incident, which has sparked a diplomatic row.
The Italians claimed that the fishermen Valentine Jalastine and Ajeesh Binki, who had set out to sea along with nine other fishermen on February 15 were shot at on suspicion of being pirates.
While proceedings were underway outside the magistrate's residence, the activists kept on protesting and some were removed by police. Armed state police commandos were also deployed in front of the residence.
During the meeting between officials of the legal and foreign ministries of the two countries in Delhi on Sunday, both sides asserted their country enjoys extra territorial jurisdiction over any crime or incident in such situations.
India had however maintained that no military personnel can fire on unarmed fishermen, which the Italian side accepted.