Prime Minister Theresa May will raise the issue of six Britons lodged in a Tamil Nadu jail with Prime Minister Narendra Modi during her visit to India next week, the government announced on Wednesday following pressure from family members of the jailed sailors.
The six are among 35 members of American anti-piracy vessel ‘MV Seaman Guard Ohio’, which was intercepted by the Coast Guard off Tuticorin, Tamil Nadu, on October 12, 2013 for allegedly carrying unlicensed weapons. Hundreds of thousands of people have signed an online petition seeking their release.
The Britons - Nick Dunn, John Armstrong, Ray Tindall, Nicholas Simpson, Paul Towers and Billy Irving - were among those sentenced to five years in jail by a Tamil Nadu court in January. They have been reportedly lodged in a jail in Chennai. Their family members have accused the British government of not doing enough to secure their release, and ‘begged’ May to raise the issue during her India visit.
Lisa Dunn, sister of one of the men, told BBC she was “sick to death” of being told the government cannot intervene in another country’s judicial system.
She said: “Theresa May has the power the end this now, and that's what we want her to do. She cannot waste this opportunity face-to-face with Modi, she has six British men at her mercy, and can't just waste it talking about her trade deals.”
“There were six British soldiers who served this country and they need help. It's an absolute travesty if she fails to raise it. The power is in her hands and we're begging her for help.”
A government spokesman told Hindustan Times on Wednesday: “We recognise what a difficult time this is for those involved and we have taken significant action on this case. The Prime Minister has been clear that she intends to raise it with PM Modi during her visit next week.”
“Alok Sharma, the Foreign Office Minister for Asia pressed for progress during his first official visit to India in July and again last month. Earlier this year, the then Foreign Office minister Hugo Swire travelled to India to meet the men personally, as well as meeting their families in Carlisle”.
“Foreign Office staff in India have been providing support to all six men since their arrest and are working to make sure their welfare is protected in prison. We are also in regular contact with their families in the UK.”