FIFTEEN SOMALI nationals, who were arrested during anti-piracy operations in January 2011, have been released, after they completed seven year jail sentence, on January 2. They were convicted by a sessions court on August 2, 2017, under various charges. The court had directed that they be deported once they complete the remainder of their prison term in an Indian jail. Since their legal status is that of illegal immigrants now, their custody was handed over to Yellow Gate police station, where the FIR against them was registered. Currently, they are lodged in a room on the premises of Yellow Gate police station in south Mumbai, in “safe custody”.
Lodged in Taloja central jail in Navi Mumbai for over six years, the men were shifted to a prison in Kolhapur after they were convicted. An officer from Yellow Gate police station said a room meant for the staff members was being used to accommodate them. A second group of 27 men, who were convicted on August 11, 2017, will be released on Friday. Once the second group is released, the Embassy of the Federal Republic of Somalia, is likely to fly them back together, an official said.
“We made arrangements for the stay of the 15 men released last week on the Yellow Gate police station premises since there is no detention centre where they could be lodged till they are deported. It will be difficult to accommodate a large number. We have been informed by the Somali Embassy that they are making arrangements for their return as soon as possible once the second group is released,” said a senior police official.
A total of 120 Somali men were arrested in four separate anti-piracy operations by the Indian Navy and the Indian Coastguard from January to March 2011. Three of the prisoners died of illnesses while the trial was underway. The third group of 16 men will be released on February 15 and the largest group of 60 men will be released on February 23.
Advocate Vishwajeet Singh, representing the prisoners on behalf of the embassy, said that since the embassy would be bearing the airfare of returning the 117 men to Somalia, it was initially planning to make a one-time chartered plane arrangement with all the men together. “It would have been financially feasible for us to take the men together. Taking them in groups on commercial airlines is a security risk. But we were informed about the release date of the first batch only two days prior to the release. We requested the prison authorities to continue lodging them in the jail till all the men can be released. But we were informed by the state government, through the Ministry of External Affairs, that there is no detention centre in the entire state to keep prisoners in such situations,” Singh said.
“We have been struggling to ensure accommodation for the men who will be released. Since no detention facility is available, we were even willing to take responsibility of their safe custody till all the men are released and transferred. We are now in the process of finalising and taking them in batches of two since the state government authorities have not given us any alternative,” he said.
A police officer said: “We could not accommodate such a large group. The situation brings to fore the need to have a detention centre in the city for such prisoners. A separate space could be created within a prison designated as a detention centre.”
The men were convicted under charges including attempt to murder, kidnapping and other relevant sections of the Arms Act and Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act.
Having completed nearly six-and-a half-years of their term as under trials, they were sentenced to complete the remaining six months before being deported.