Mikser summons Indian ambassador in Helsinki over Estonian ship guards case

Minister of Foreign Affairs Sven Mikser (SDE) has summoned the Ambassador of India in Helsinki in connection with the reported recusal of the judge hearing the appeal of 14 Estonian ship guards convicted in India.

Mikser expressed deep indignation over the news, according to a ministry press release - err.ee said.

"The last appeals court hearing took place almost a year ago," he noted. "The information about the judge's recusal, especially after such a long wait for a decision, is shocking. This sort of justice, where any expectation of reasonableness has been lost, is not appropriate for any country goverend by the rule of law."

The Estonian ship guards' situation, which has lasted for four years at this point, has been extraordinarily complicated for the detained and their families and caused them suffering, Mikser said. "This casts a shadow on formerly good relations between Estonia and India," he added.

Estonian Ambassador to India Riho Kruuv on Monday met Indian Minister of State for External Affairs Mobashar Jawed Akbar in New Delhi. Kruuv expressed deep dissatisfaction over the latest delay and requested an explanation regarding the course of proceedings.

The Estonian Ministry of Foregin Affairs also notified the Indian Ministry of External Affairs that it sought a phone call between the two countries' respective ministers. Mikser is also to discuss the issue with British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson in the near future as well.

News of the judge's recusal was conveyed to the Estonian ministry last Friday via the ship guards' lawyers.

Four years since ship guards' arrest

On Oct. 18, 2013, police in Tamil Nadu arrested 35 crew and security personnel on board the anti-piracy vesselSeaman Guard Ohio, including 14 Estonian citizens as well as citizens of the UK, Ukraine and India. They were charged in December of the same year with illegal refueling, illegal handling of firearms and illegal entry into territorial waters, and released on bail in April 2014.

After being handled in various court instances, the case was returned by India's Supreme Court to the Tuticorin Magistrate Court, which on Jan. 11, 2016, sentenced the men to five years' imprisonment for entering India with weapons. At the end of January, the ship guards decided to appeal the verdict and applied for bail. The bail application was rejected on Feb. 29, but the court decided to continue appeal hearings, which were subsequently postponed multiple times before finally taking place in October and November. The court wrapped up the appeal hearings on Nov. 30.

On Nov. 15, Estonia and India signed an agreement on the transfer of sentenced persons, ratified by the Riigikogu in February 2017, whereby Indian and Estonian citizens sentenced to prison in the other country could serve out their sentences in their respective home country. The agreement cannot be applied to the Estonian ship guards until their sentence has taken effect, however, which means that the ship guards would first have to drop their appeal.

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