Seychelles court of appeal acquits 3 suspected Somali pirates convicted of piracy
Seychelles' courts building 'Palais de Justice' at Ile du Port, where also sits the Court of Appeal that acquitted the three suspected Somali pirates. (Seychelles News Agency)
(Seychelles News Agency) - The Seychelles Court of Appeal has acquitted and ordered the repatriation of 3 Somali pirates back to their homeland. The highest court in the land overturned a previous ruling delivered by the island nation’s Supreme Court citing “insufficient evidence that proves that they were indeed pirates.”
The Court of Appeal’s ruling was delivered at the end of its last session for this year on Friday December 12. The court holds three sessions yearly, one in April, one in August and the last one in December.
Two of the three men were appealing against their 21 year sentence while the third one, a juvenile aged 16 was appealing against his 14 year sentence.
According to an article published on Monday in daily newspaper, TODAY in Seychelles, the Court of Appeal judges “severely warned” the prosecution when delivering their ruling “to make sure they have concrete evidence before prosecuting suspects.”
The 3 men were in fact part of a group of 25 suspected pirates arrested by a Danish Naval Vessel off the Horn of Africa, in January 2012.
According to reports then, the Danish navy freed 14 Iranian and Pakistan hostages who were being held hostage on the ship on which the 25 Somali men were captured.
4 of them were brought to Seychelles and another 4 were brought to Kenya to be prosecuted while the 17 others were released.
The fact that the pirates were caught in international their appointed lawyer Seychellois Nichol Gabriel told TODAY had from the beginning made it hard to gather evidence to prosecute them.
“Nobody knows enough about the case,” Gabriel was quoted as saying.
Speaking on the national broadcaster, the Seychelles Broadcasting Cooperation, SBC, on Friday evening the Principal State Counsel David Esparon said the problem in gathering all the evidence is due to the fact that the prosecution have to rely on the cost guards to give evidence or the crew of the international naval forces.
Esparon noted that the Court of Appeal judges had suggested amendments to the penal code relating to the prosecution of pirates something he told SBC would be up to the office of the Attorney General.
The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) that finances the trials and prosecution of Somali pirates in Seychelles is expected to arrange for the repatriation of the 3 men back to Somalia.
The fourth suspected Somali pirate who was brought to Seychelles together with them abandoned his appeal and had already been repatriated to Puntland where he is serving the 21 year sentence that was imposed on him.
The western Indian Ocean island nation of the Seychelles, geographically close to the Somali coast, has placed itself at the forefront of the fight against piracy.
The country has been greatly affected by the scourge of piracy which has been plaguing the Indian Ocean since 2005, affecting the islands' tourism and fisheries industries where Seychellois fishermen have also been held captive by Somali pirates.
Since then, Seychelles has been working with international partners to apprehend and prosecute suspected Somali pirates that have seen the island nation prosecuting the largest number of Somali pirates between 2009 to 2013.
Statistics show that to date some 111 Somali pirates from the Seychelles prison have been repatriated to either the Garowe (Puntland) and Hargeysa (Somaliland) prisons, two detention facilities built by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crimes (UNODC), as part of its Piracy Prisoner Transfer Programme.
In October this year, statistics from the Seychelles Prison Service showed that a total of 41 Somali pirates were still being held at the Seychelles Prison at Montagne Posee prison in the lush tropical mountains leading to the western part of the main inhabited island, Mahé, where they are kept separate from the local prisoners.
Out of this number, 25 Somali pirates have already been sentenced and are awaiting transfer to either of the two prisons in Puntland and Somaliland.
The remaining 16 are still on remand awaiting trial.