19 December 2010

Report from Day 1

Day 1 - 22 November 2010
I was born during the rainy season
A report about the first day of the 'piracy' trial

It's the first day of the so called Piracy Trial in the youth court in Hamburg. The room is full:
  • 20 lawyers
  • 10 accused Somali males, among them one child and one adolescent
  • 3 translators
  • 50 reporters
  • 30 camera people in the hallway
  • 40 members of the public
  • and way too many security staff

First, the judge asks the defendants for their names, birth dates and places of birth. Most have to repeat their name several times: names which neither the judge nor the press have ever pronounced. The translator repeats the name, the judge repeats the name and it all sounds like a classroom full of Europeans trying to learn the Somali language.

Most of the defendants say they only have a birth year, not a birth date. One of them says: we get our birth date from the season. I am 24 years old and I was born during the rainy season.

I was born under the tree! says the next. Other than that I don't know anything about my birth date. I think I am 20 years old.

The judge is calm and promises to try to pronounce everyone's names correctly.

Then the prosecutor reads out the charges, very quietly. I wonder if she does it on purpose.

The low, monotone voice of the prosecutor reading charges puts the court room to sleep. Journalists read their cell phones, others yawn. They all wake up again when one of the lawyers wants to read a joint statement of the defendants.

It's about international law, fishing rights, resources, poverty, living conditions, minors who shouldn't be trialled, the question whether a German court has any right at all to trial these people, and it ends with the statement that a guilty verdict in this trial would hardly have any influence on piracy in Somalia.

The judge replies with the assurance that the age of the youngest accused would have to be determined first, and that questions of international law would be considered.

The prosecutor claims that the city of birth of one of the defendants doesn't exist. Neither she nor the foreign office have heard about it. But Wikipedia knows about this town with a population of 62.000, schools, etc. The lawyer is also in contact with the mother. She has organised papers from the defendant's school, the headmaster can be contacted, they even provide phone numbers.

The prosecutor still claims that the city may not exist, although everyone can see it on Google Earth. Even a reporter for RTL was there some time ago and reported about it.

Outside, different groups alert the public to the trial. Some have banners with slogans against colonial injustice, others with quotes from the Somalian fishermen and they take the voices and thoughts of the accused to the street.