Thiruvananthapuram: Since February, three Italian ministers have come to express
solidarity with two of their marines who are cooling their heels
in a prison here after shooting dead two Indian fishermen off the Kerala coast. The Italian foreign minister, his deputy and the
defence minister are among those who have come and gone. Their
visits have come at a time when hundreds of Keralites and
thousands of other Indians are in jails in the Middle East.
But few can recall a visit made by an Indian minister to any of
these jails abroad to express solidarity with the Keralites or
Indians. According to official figures, there are about 2,000
Keralites in various jails in the Middle East.
"The figure of 2,000 was given in reply to a question in the
Indian parliament. If one considers unofficial figures, it would
be more than 4,000 serving jail terms for crimes ranging from
murder to petty crimes," said a Kerala government official on
condition of anonymity.
A rare public utterance from an Indian leader on the matter was by
leader of opposition and veteran Communist V.S. Achuthanandan who
said on the floor of the Kerala assembly that the two Italian
Marines who shot dead the Indian fishermen were given VIP status.
"Do you know there are so many Indians languishing in jails abroad
and you just see the two Italians, who are murderers, put up in
guesthouses and eating five-star food. Why is this happening?"
Thursday, it was Italian Defence Minister Giampaolo Di Paola, a
highly decorated naval official, who flew down in a special plane
and drove to the Central Prison to be with Latorre Massimillano
and Salvatore Girone - the two Italian Marines who were on board
the vessel Enrica Lexie when they allegedly shot dead the Indian
fishermen Feb 15 after mistaking them for pirates.
Since Feb 20, the two Italians have been in judicial custody and
are now lodged in a special room in the prison here.
A family member of an official of a Keralite merchant ship, which
has been in the custody of Somalian pirates since September 2010,
told IANS, "Look at the zeal of the Italian officials who are
staying put in our state, fighting for the welfare of their
nationals who killed two Indian nationals.
"It has been 18 months since my dearest has been in the custody of
Somalian pirates and despite promises from the prime minister down
that very soon things would be sorted out, nothing has moved. Are
Indian lives less precious than those of other nationals?"
Alexander Jacob, additional director general of police, jails,
however said there are international rules and conventions that
have to be made applicable to international prisoners.
Kerala Chief Minister Oommen Chandy said: "The Italian ministers
who have been here have pointed out that their nationals in jail
are entitled to certain privileges and we have assured that these
would be adhered to."
All eyes are on the Kerala High Court which is expected to give a
final judgement on the quashing of the FIR against these two
Italian, who have been insisting that they are governed only by
international maritime laws and not Indian ones.
But as far as jailed Keralites and other Indians abroad are
concerned, the spotlight is certainly not on them.
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