An agreement on transfer of sentenced prisoners between India and Italy became operational on December 17 last year following its ratification by both the countries.
The two Italian marines, Salvatore Girone and Massimiliano Latorre, can now exercise the option of serving their sentence in Italy, if and when they are convicted by an Indian court. The two are accused of gunning down two Kerala fishermen on a fishing boat, about 20 nautical miles off the Kerala coast, on February 15 last year, in an apparent case of mistaken identity. The Italians claim that they opened fire because they suspected the fishermen to be pirates.
The agreement with Italy was signed in January last year, about a month before the incident.
After the incident, the Italian government acted with a sense of urgency to get the agreement ratified by their parliament, and the two countries were able to exchange the ratification documents in December last year.
Apart from the two marines, there are three other Italian nationals currently serving jail terms in India. The agreement does not apply to convicts who have been sentenced to death. Neither can the convicts exercise this option till the court of final appeal in the country in which the crime has been committed has settled the case.
In the case of the Italian marines, the Supreme Court had last month ordered that they would be tried by a special court constituted by it and not by the Kerala court. The apex court ruled that the Kerala court did not have jurisdiction over the case as the crime happened outside India’s territorial waters, in an area known as the Exclusive Economic Zone in which only the central government has the jurisdiction. A special court is still to be constituted.
In case the special court convicts and sentences the Italians, and none of the two parties appeal against the order in a higher court, they can ask to be shifted in a jail of their own country to serve their entire sentence, provided that the two governments agree to their request.
Italy is not the only country, though it is the latest one, with which India has such an agreement. India had enacted a law — Repatriation of Prisoners Act, 2003 — that enables the government to sign bilateral agreements with foreign countries allowing an exchange of prisoners.