NEW DELHI: The Supreme Court allowed on Thursday an Italian marine accused of killing two Indian fishermen in 2012 to go home until an international tribunal decided on a dispute between New Delhi and Rome over which country has jurisdiction in the case.
The ruling was expected as the UN’s Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague had asked New Delhi and Rome to approach the Supreme Court early this month, saying Sergeant Salvatore Girone be allowed to go home until the dispute is resolved.
Girone is out on bail but lives in the Italian embassy in Delhi because of travel restrictions.
He and fellow marine Massimiliano Latorre are accused of shooting the fishermen off the Kerala coast while protecting an Italian oil tanker. Latorre was allowed to go back to Italy in 2014 after he suffered a stroke.
The top court relaxed Girone’s bail conditions on Thursday after the Centre backed the marine’s plea, saying he should be granted relief on humanitarian grounds.
“Given that the tribunal’s order is binding on India under international law, India conveyed its no objection to Italy’s application subject to certain additional bail conditions,” external affairs ministry spokesperson Vikas Swarup said.
For his return to his homeland, the court suggested certain conditions. For instance, Girone must report to a police station in Italy every month. Also, he has to submit an undertaking to remain under the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court.
Italy must return him within a month in case India gets jurisdiction over the marine, the court ruled, referring to a condition set by the UN tribunal.
Girone will be home next Thursday, Italy’s Republic Day, Prime Minister Matteo Renzi tweeted.
The arrest of the two marines on February 15, 2012 strained ties between the two countries, with Italy insisting the shooting happened in international waters and so the sailors should be tried at home. Rome went to the UN tribunal after repeated trial delays in India.
India says it has the right to try the two men as the fishermen were killed in its waters. The marines defended the shooting, saying they mistook the fishermen for pirates.
“We confirm our friendship with India, its people and its government,” said Renzi, who has been under pressure to secure the provisional liberty of both marines.
Girone’s unconditional bail spurred the opposition Congress, during whose rule the shooting happened, to criticise the Narendra Modi government for not opposing his release. The party alleged a secret deal between the NDA government and Italy.
“As the Italian marine goes to Italy, one remembers Modi in 2013-14 spewing invective over it,” said party spokesperson Randeep Singh Surjewala. “Would like to ask Modi, which jail those marines are in now? Why did his government not oppose the release in SC? What deal was struck?”
Kerala chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan too protested the Centre’s move.
But the widow of one of the slain fisherman welcomed the Supreme Court’s decision. “Let him join his family. We have forgiven both marines long back,” said Dora Jelestine in Kollam. She thanked the Italian government for helping her pick up the pieces and carry on. (With inputs from HTC, Thiruvananthapuram)