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Hint of Italy terror charge removal

New Delhi, Jan. 20: The Centre today told the Supreme Court that it was exploring the possibility of dropping terror-related charges against two Italian marines charged with killing two Kerala fishermen in 2012.

A bench of Justices B.S. Chauhan and J. Chelameshwar posted the matter for hearing in the first week of February after attorney-general G.E. Vahanvati informed the court that the ministries of law, home and external affairs were examining the matter and sought a week’s time to place the government’s final response.

The Centre’s move follows a joint application filed by the Italian government and marines Massimiliano Latorre and Salvatore Girone accusing the Indian authorities of effectively declaring their country a “terrorist state” by invoking the anti-terrorism SUA Act (Suppression of Unlawful Acts against safety of Maritime Navigation).

The application contended that invoking the SUA Act violated the apex court’s 2013 order and the subsequent ones wherein it directed the authorities to proceed against the accused only under the IPC, CrPC and the United Nations Convention on the Law of Sea.

“Invoking the anti-terrorism SUA Act would (be) tantamount to the Republic of Italy being termed a terrorist state and the acts of its organs, which were in repression of piracy, as being deemed as acts of terrorism,” the plea said.

The petition also sought the marines’ discharge on the ground that the formal trial had not yet commenced even after nearly two years.

Latorre and Girone have said they had mistaken for pirates the two Kerala fishermen killed in their alleged firing in February 2012 while on anti-piracy vigil on board an Italian vessel.

In April last year, the apex court had directed the special court set up to try the marines to conduct “day-to-day trial and expeditious hearing”. It also allowed Latorre and Girone to challenge before the special court the jurisdiction of Indian courts and the National Investigating Agency to probe the offence.

On January 18 last year, an apex court bench headed by then Chief Justice of India Altamas Kabir had ordered the setting up of a special court to try the marines and directed them to report once in a week to the officer in-charge of Chanakyapuri police station.