27 December 2011

Harbour cruise : Pirates? New dates for 2012

Sunday, 26.2.12,  16.00 o'clock
Sunday, 22.4.12   17.00 o'clock
What does piracy have to do with the plunder of fish off the coast of Somalia? Who is using Somali waters as a dumping ground? What is the story with the weapons on the captured MS Faina? Who are the young men from Somalia? What does 'security' mean at the gulf of Aden?

This harbour trip shines a light on the political background of the current trial.

25 December 2011

Press release

In a press release, the One World Network, No One is Illegal and the Third World Harbour Group Hamburg raise the question of whether the court is actually conducting an unbiased trial. The statement raises issues that we have been raising on this blog: the court has not heard a single witness for the defence, even after the defence lawyers have tracked down witnesses in Somalia on their own, the offer of accommodation in a youth facility has been rejected, using far-fetched reasons and the fact that one of the under-age defendants was assaulted in prison and had not been seen by a doctor until the following day in court. The groups suggest that the purpose of the trial could be to justify the expenses of the ATALANTA mission.

24 December 2011

The Christmas presents, and the good and bad pirates.

While today, probably thousends of Judges, Lawyers, Journalists and other people make their children happy with a Playmobil Pirates games, the ones accused of having been pirates, are still in prison although too young and wonder when they will finally be free.

They also wonder why everybody  calls them 'pirate' and not by their names.
And why the society enjoys anything having to do with pirates - even a political party exists in Germany with this name - but they are in prison. It is offending  to be called all the time:  Pirate !

                             Give the accused back their dignity!
                    Give them back their names and their freedom!

21 December 2011

“I am a prisoner of my illness”

Day 65 – 21 December 2011. The last court day for the year.

A new challenge against the judge, decision on the previous challenge, several statements by the defendants and a special folder.

The day started with one of the lawyers reading out a challenge against the judge on the basis that the judge is biased. The reasons being that the judge – in his last decision to decline an application for bail for the under-age defendants – suggested that anyone who showed sympathy for the defendants would also be prepared to aid their escape. An accusation that is based purely on speculation. The judge had used this reason before and, when asked for any evidence of this, back-tracked and refused to give any more details. Now the judge has used this line of argument again.

The second reason for his bias was a criticism of the manager of a facility of youth accommodation. The organisation had been asked by both the defence and by the Hamburg Youth Authority about the possibility of housing the three under-age defendants in one of their flats. As a result, the manager had attended a few court hearings and had applied for a visit to the youth detention centre, together with her staff and some of the youth that currently live there. This is part of the participatory concept of the organisation. The judge has turned this against the defendants by claiming the manager was 'not maintaining the required professional distance' to the defendants. An obvious case of the judge stepping outside his competency. This has been the third such challenge against the judge.

After that, one defendant after another made personal statements. They were polite but firm challenges  to the judge to end the trial. One could feel the frustration of the defendants, having been in detention for a year and a half, without knowing how much more time they would have to spend locked up, their health deterioating and having to sit through 65 days at court without understanding much of the proceedings. Here are a few quotes:

“I am no longer alive. I can't continue to sit here like a school child in a classroom. Please don't hesitate to pass a verdict. I don't mind what it is, as long as it's soon.”

“I've been getting more and more ill in prison. I am mentally no longer present, I think of my family, they are dependent on me. I therefore ask you to pass whatever verdict you find suitable.”
“I have been waiting for my verdict for thirteen months, I've been very ill. I am a prisoner of my illness. When I try to explain my situation to my family, they don't believe me. I have instructed my lawyers not to file any more applications. There must be an end now. Enough is enough.“
And another queried the judge and said:
“I would like to ask you a question: do you think it is a person's right to try to save themselves if they see a chance to do so? I want to save myself. My lawyers have tracked down a witness who was willing to testify that I was forced to participate. You have spoken to the witness. I want to pursue this.“
Then, during the lunch break a decision on the previous challenge against the judge was announced. The judge read out the ruling, made by his colleagues, who found that there was no bias. This doesn't come as a surprise, but what we didn't expect was that the judge actually has a special folder for 'applications declined', and that he declared this folder to be full now and that he would start a second volume for the next application.

Finally, the judge announced that, because of the pending challenge, he has not been able to set dates for the trial after the end of January (the judge is limited in what they can do while a challenge is pending). Even if everything is wound down now, there will be 21 closing addresses, which by themselves are likely to take more than the scheduled court dates in January. Because no dates have been set in advance, by now most lawyers will be booked on most days in February and March. In the worst case, this could mean that there will be a break for a couple of months before the trial resumes in April.

So the day ends with another nightmare scenario for the defendants.

16 December 2011

The role of the prosecution

State prosecutor Ronald Giesch-Rahlf has so far not contributed much to the trial. According to the German court statutes, the court – including the prosecution – is required to 'establish the truth'. This means exposing all circumstances around the events under question, including finding witnesses. However, the prosecution's contributions have mostly been  limited to objecting to anything the defence has asked for. The defence has been complaining about this for some time. They were the ones who tracked down potential witnesses in Somalia – only to have them rejected by the court.

One thing the prosecutor has been doing is preparing himself for a talk he will hold on 23 February at Marburg University on the subject “Piracy: the oldest international crime is facing new challenges”. Could it be that Giesch-Rahlf is focussing more on making himself a name than on the trial?

12 December 2011

12 December 2011 - Youth prisoner assaulted

Today, there were no regular proceedings in court. One of the under-age defendants told the court that he had been assaulted by another prisoner and that he was unable to sit through court. The court's own medical service examined him and found that there was risk of a concussion and had him admitted to hospital. 
The final court date for the year is Wednesday, 21 December.

11 December 2011

Summary of 5 – 7 December 2011

It is becoming more and more obvious that the court is not willing to allow any defence witnesses. In the last couple of weeks a number of attempts were made by the defence to summon Somali residents as witnesses to prove that the accused were forced to participate in the attack of the Taipan. All these applications have been declined by the court on the grounds that it would be too difficult to track the witnesses down (the absence of a functioning postal service and a registration system in Somalia were cited several times), that it would be too difficult to get visas for them, that they wouldn't be able to travel, or that obtaining the visas would involve having to pay a bribe and German court couldn't do that. 

Now the defence has tried to address these issues and to counter these claims. One lawyer presented detailed information about a plane owned by the German intelligence service BND, which has been used in the past to fly members of the Taliban from Afghanistan to Germany for negotiations – an operation that was not hindered by the absence of a registration system in Afghanistan, the lack of a postal service or the lack of visas. The lawyer listed the registration details of the plane, who owned it and where it was currently located. But the judge is not interested in knowing about the plane, he's only interested in finding out how the lawyer found out.

Then another lawyer presented a list of the crew members (including passport numbers) of the Dhow that was used as the 'mothership' by the pirates. Any of these people would be valuable witnesses for the defence. Again, the judge doesn't want to hear about it and claims that such a list can't exist. And now it's the prosecutor who demands to know how the lawyer obtained the information.     

And again, the three under-age defendants were refused bail. As before, everything that is presented for their release – a very positive report by the prison staff, an offer of accommodation by a youth organisation – has been used as arguments why they can't be released. According to the judge, the three are enjoying privileges in prison (e.g. access to a TV) which aren't available in the youth facility. Therefore they would be better off in prison than outside.

And another accusation which has been made before has been made again: the judge alleged that people who show solidarity with the accused would also be prepared to help the accused escape. This time, this accusation was made in a written statement by the judge, which was handed to the defence in a non-public part of the meeting and was not published at the time. Most of the lawyers were visibly upset at this procedure, because it meant that the defendants themselves would not have access to these allegations. A heated argument between the defence and the judge ensued. The judge refused to have the statement translated verbally or in writing – after all “in other circumstances also, the accused don't always understand everything”.

08 December 2011

Court refuses to hear witness from Somalia for "ethical" reasons

It's not only about German justice, said a lawyer to the judge, it is also about German morals. "What you call 'bribery' as a reason not to invite an important witness to court, is called bakshish in other countries".
All witnesses from Somalia, that have been named by the lawyers have been refused by the court, for different reasons: Somalia has no goverment, no registration system so people don't have passports or visas. Therefore no one from Somali will be considered as witnesses by the court because they are not registered! And a German court cannot send a summons to someone who isn't registered by their government.
Does that mean that generally people from countries where there is war and no goverment are not suitable as witnesses in a German court?
Is a person's existence depending on their registration or their passport?
no one is illegal!

04 December 2011

New Blog: Possession of the Sea

Of course, the trial against the ten Somali in Hamburg isn't the only such trial - there are currently hundreds of Somali being trialled or are serving their sentences in different countries. We recommend taking a look at a new blog titled "possession of the sea", which provides an overview of the situation. The blog tries
to keep track of the growing numbers of Somali who have been arrested and taken from their homeland, people who are now sitting in foreign lands waiting for foreign 'justice' or have been convicted and must now serve their time. It is hoped that the blog will also raise interest in the bigger issues behind why so many Somali are now sitting in those jails - and who is trying to possess the seas of Somalia and why.

03 December 2011

Children dying in Mogadishu while German Court refuses to hear Witnesses

While the Court again refuses to listen to a witness from Mogadishu named by the lawyers, we get the terrible news from a Somali friend of us, a refugee, that his two children aged 5 and 7 years have been shot in Mogadishu while on the way to school. The boy died, the girl is badly injured.

Knowing that the father became a refugee and left back his family, having before been a fisherman without work, and he and his wife dreamed for their kids a better future. He left Somalia in the hope to support his kids so they could go to school...

We wish our friend, his wife and the small daughter, to survive and keep alive the memory of the son.