24 May 2012

Court Report Day 88 - 23.5.12

Court Report Day 88 – 23 May 2012

Today, the Indian journalist working for german television ARD, who was announced yesterday, appeared and gave evidence. He had been called in at short notice, when the German federal police had told the court last week that he had been in Salaya and had interviewed two of the crew from the dhow Hudhud.

He said the reason why the crew didn't want to appear in court themselves was not because they were afraid of coming to Germany but because they wanted to leave these events behind. The judge thanked the journalist for taking the unusual step of sharing his research with the court.

First, the court wanted to be sure that they were talking about the same people, so two photos were shown to identify the crew members.

When the judge asked, the journalist mentioned two names of people who were behind the attack on the Taipan. However, when asked about the name of the defendant, whose relatives had been involved, he said that he had been given two more names in the last couple of days and that he didn't want to falsely accuse anyone. Should the judge ask again in a few days, it was likely that different names would come up.

While in India, the journalist had read in Times of India about the two crew members being in Salaya, so he decided to interview them. But he said, he wasn't alone with the two, at times there had been up to 40 other people in the room, who had just dropped in (“there is not much happening in Salaya”). He had about half an hour of raw video footage, which will be shown at the next court hearing. When asked if the interviewees knew that they were being filmed and that the material was going to be published, he said he assumed so. He repeatedly described them as 'simple people', who didn't tell a lot of details.

The crew had been upset about being held captive by other Muslims. True Muslims wouldn't do that to each other. They had been threatened and had  to sleep all  in one room, but had not been harmed physically. They had been told that they would be freed once the Somali had successfully captured a ship. The capturing of the Taipan obviously failed, so they had to wait until another ship had been hijacked and after that they were released. In the meantime they had been fishing. The judge seemed a little confused at this because the Hudhud had been described as a coal carrier, but the journalist told him that it wasn't unusual to also trade in fish.

According to the two crew members, the Somali had spent a lot of time on the phone, talking to their families, who kept asking when they would return, and about the ransom money. To us, this raises the question of how the Indian crew would know the content of the phone calls, unless they spoke Somali, which had never been mentioned before. However, no one in the court room asked about it.

The journalist emphasized that he himself had never initiated contact with the FBI or the German police, instead they had contacted him several times, especially after a colleague of his had been kidnapped in Somalia in January.

He stated that apparently some of the conversations he had had with the German police had not been recorded correctly and this way some incorrect information had been reported in the German media recently.

The only question asked by the defence was whether he had given the name of the 'crown witness' to the German police. He was indignant and vehemently denied this.

The hearing was then adjourned because one of the defendants was suffering from severe headache and had to see a doctor. The next planned trial date on 25. May has been cancelled due to the unavailability of the journalist. The next date will be the 4th of June, where the video footage of the interviews will be shown.

No trial on 24 May

There will be no trial on Thursday, 24 May. The next dates will be as follows, starting at 8:30 am.

Monday, 4 June
Wednesday, 6 June
Thursday, 14 June
Friday, 15 June
Wednesday, 20 June
Thursday, 21 June
Thursday, 12 July
Monday, 30 July
Thursday, 30 August
Friday, 31 August

23 May 2012

Court Report Day 87 – 22 May 2012

After having declined an application to hear the Indian crew of the dhow Hudhud at the last hearing, the judge announced today that there will be a witness from India after all.

An Indian journalist, living in Germany had travelled to India and spoken to the crew of the Hudhud. He was planning to catch the next flight from India to Germany and appear in court on 23 May. The German federal police had already spoken to the journalist and the judge indicated that there might be video material.

Then the case manager of the youth court aid gave an additional report on the conduct of the three under-age accused. He had already given a report in December 2011, when it was believed that the trial would be finished by the end of the year. He described the three as 'nice and friendly' and said that they had integrated well into the youth facility, where they have been living since April this year. They attended a school for migrants and he had had conversations with them without the need for a translator. He said they should have been released earlier.

Finally, two decisions were announced regarding applications by the defence. The first one related to hearing the Dutch navy officer de Wind again to verify what the accused X had stated during his interview in Holland. The application was declined because the judge believed that de Wind would not be able to say what X had not told him.

The second application, to hear the Norwegian professor Stig Hansen for a second time to confirm what the other accused had said about X's name, his clan membership and his family, was also declined. The judge said that Hansen could only report on 'hearsay' and that it wasn't Hansen's job to do investigations. Earlier in the trial, Hansen had been presented as an authority on Somalia and his statements as an expert witness determined much of what the court knows about the conditions in Somalia.

Next trial date is Wednesday, 23 May, 9 am (later than usual because of the Indian witness).

12 May 2012

Court Report Day 86– 10 May 2012

Court Report Day 86 – 10 May 2012

The court rejected the application to hear the Indian witnesses and the judge wants to finalize the evidence, once again.

The judge stated several reasons why the Indian crew of the dhow Hudhud can't be heard. Firstly, the necessary technical equipment didn't exist in India. The fact that India has become a centre for IT development seems to have escaped the judge. Not even the German embassy or the consulate had the required equipment (do the German embassy staff not communicate with their families in Germany?).

Secondly, a request for assistance from the German foreign office would take too long and would probably not happen this year.

Thirdly, the witnesses would not provide a lot of information. The first one had stated that he didn't want to leave his home town and was afraid of acts of revenge when he returned to sea. He had also said that he wouldn't be able to recognize any of the accused, because all Somali looked alike to him. The second witness has stopped answering his phone.

Then the judge referred to a statement made by one of the defendants during the last court day. The defendant had claimed that he had been been forced at gunpoint to participate and that he was in chains on the dhow. The judge said that this lacked credibility because he belonged to the same minority clan as another defendant who had not stated that he had been forced, and that he had made several phone calls to his wife.

The court is still waiting for an answer from the French navy regarding the fingerprints of the 'crown witness', which were allegedly taken when they arrested him prior to the attack on the Taipan.

One more application needs to be decided by the court (made on 16 April): that the Norwegian expert witness Stig Hansen be called again to confirm that the family of the 'crown witness' belonged to a different clan than he had stated, and that they had organized the attack on the Taipan.

Once that has been dealt with, the trial could come to a close once again, the judge said.

04 May 2012

No Court 7 and 8 th of May !

The two next Court dates will not take place. The reasons are up to now unknown to us.

A relaxed judge

During the last couple of court hearings, the presiding judge Steinmetz seemed remarkably relaxed.
For months he has been pushing to bring the trial to an end. Every time the defence made a submission, he was annoyed; every delay irritated him. Then, on day 84, he finished at midday with the words “we have no programme left for today” - as if this was some sort of theatre rehearsal. And this Wednesday, the hearing lasted only one and a half hours before the judge finished and cancelled the following hearing. All this in a trial with 20 lawyers and three interpreters, some of whom travel almost a thousand kilometres for every court appearance.

Somehow, the judge does not appear to be in a hurry to bring the trial to a close any more. Some of those observing the trial wonder what prompted this change in attitude. Several possibilities come to mind. Maybe it was the release of the three juvenile defendants - the court had been criticised for keeping them in custody for so long. Or is it the fact that the German parliament is about to make a decision on expanding the Atalanta mission to go on land. Is the trial not supposed to end before that decision has been made? Or does the court need more time to prepare the verdicts – but isn't 18 months enough time?

In the meantime, some people consider applying to the Guinness Book of Records to have the trial registered as the longest running 'piracy trial' in history...

03 May 2012

Court Report Day 85 – 2 May 2012

It was only a brief statement by the judge today and then everyone was dismissed. The judge had been trying to contact the two Indian fishermen to confirm that they are willing to give evidence from India. The first one had said that, after discussion with this family, he did not want to leave the town of Salaya, where he lives. The other one had not been answering his phone.

This led the judge to finish the day and also cancel the next court day on Friday, 4 May, because it was unlikely that the other witness would have been contacted by then. One could get the impression that the judge is losing interest in the case.

Then one of the lawyers suggested the court should check with the French navy, whether they still had the fingerprints of the accused X that were allegedly taken 4 years ago. If the prints exist it would mean that X had been lying. The judge agreed, indicating that he had thought of that as well.

02 May 2012