THE Seychelles Court of Appeal has freed eight Somalis who had been convicted for piracy.
The Somalis were declared free on Friday morning as verdict was delivered in seven criminal and 10 civil cases which had been before the land’s highest court during its sitting from August 17-28. In a first piracy case, the Appeals Court quashed the conviction of seven Somalis and their resulting six-year sentence, after it ruled that the Supreme Court had not been provided with enough evidence in order to convict them.
The court has ordered that they are now repatriated to Somalia. They will be accompanied by another appellant in a second case, a minor at the time of offence and who has also won his appeal.
It was, however, a near miss for his 10 other comrades who are serving a 23-year sentence on two counts of piracy, as the court was not unanimous in its findings. Judge Tony Fernando’s judgment differed from that of his two other colleagues – Judges Mathilda Twomey and January Msoffe – feeling that they should have all been released. He argued that he failed to understand why the trial judge had relied on evidence which he believed to be insufficient and that for him, there was no proof of guilt beyond reasonable doubt.
The former Attorney General further stated that the appellants have been convicted of offences of which they were not correctly charged, concluding that “this case should have failed”.
Judge Fernando supported his arguments by what he called “fatal irregularities” which had left a “lurking doubt” on the case. He pointed out that the prosecution had failed to correctly state the exact place of the offence committed on August 12, 2012, some witness statements were wrongly admitted and that other key witnesses had refused to testify in spite of their presence in Seychelles.
According to one of the convicts’ lawyers Nichol Gabriel, his clients could still have recourse to the Constitutional Court as they are convinced they have been denied the right to a fair trial. However, they will not file a second appeal as they feel they will soon be transferred to Puntland where they will serve the rest of their sentence. Mr Gabriel added that Judge Fernando’s dissenting judgment will however serve as precedence to future cases.
The Somali’s were apprehended after a three day hunt by EU and NATO counter piracy forces, HNLMS Rotterdam, in close cooperation with EU unit FGS Sachsen, which successfully disrupted a pirated dhow.
The suspected pirates were apprehended on the 13 August on their way to Somalia on board a cargo vessel named Burhan Noor, which they had captured on the 11 August in the Gulf of Aden, according to Dutch reports. The Burhan Noor Master and 14 crew members who, along with their vessel, were captured and taken hostage were all Pakistanis.
The hijacked vessel was flying the Comoros flag and was sailing out of Sharjah port with general cargo when it was seized.
At the time, according to HNLMS Rotterdam Captain, the suspected pirates initially refused to surrender, threatened to fight them and to even kill the hostages, so his men had to fire warning shots to frighten them before boarding Burhan Noor and liberating the hostages.
Original Source: Seychelles Nation