MUMBAI: In a major turn of events, the 119 Somali pirates nabbed in four operations by the Coast Guard and Navy off Lakshadweep in 2011-12, have pleaded guilty to offences against them. Special public prosecutor Renjeet Sangle will file a reply next week.
The accused said their previous plea of not guilty may be disregarded. This comes at the fag end of the trial that commenced in late 2012 with 70 witnesses deposing and difficulties caused by the absence of several foreign national witnesses. About 50 pirates, booked for murder, could face the death sentence, which is maximum punishment under the section. All accused have also been booked under sections of the Unlawful Activities Prevention Act (UAPA). The maximum sentence under those sections is life imprisonment.
Applications were filed on behalf of the Embassy of the Federal Republic of Somalia seeking permission to submit the voluntary plea of guilty of the accused, recognised as Somali nationals. One of the pleas by an accused, Abusher Hussain, stated, "I hereby voluntarily and unconditionally plead guilty to all offences charges against me..." The plea further read, "...am perfectly aware of and have been made to understand the consequences if this plea being recorded against me and am ready and willing to face such consequences in the nature of conviction which may be sentence or imprisonment for life time or fine or both. I declare that I have not been made any promise, or any inducement nor coercion nor I am under any duress or pressure to enter this plea, which I make hereby with utmost conscience having realised my guilt."
Last year, one of the alleged pirates died from natural causes at JJ Hospital. Abdi Chama, 28, was suffering from tuberculosis and other lung-related ailments. The Coast Guard and Navy had handed over the 120 pirates to the Yellow Gate police. The 119 pirates have been booked on charges of attempt to murder.
"The law of criminal procedure is absolutely clear. No deviation from law is permissible once the stage has gone. This is a frustrated attempt by the international criminals to seek a liberal sentence from the honourable court. We will give an appropriate reply to the plea applications. The government has a watertight case and convictions will be secured based on impeccable evidence. India will honour its obligation under the UN Convention of the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS)," Sangle said.