"The fishermen, when they lose their fish, they think" - A., a Somali in Germany.
Since November 2010, ten Somali citizens are on trial for Piracy in Hamburg, Germany. This blog is about the trial and the background on why fishermen are forced to change their profession.
Today, the Indian journalist R. was interviewed again. First he told the court that he had the phone number of the alleged pirate leader Dhaghaweyne (who had not been on the Taipan and had not been arrested). He was sure that it was Dhaghaweyne's private number, but he hadn't talked to him yet. He read the number out loud and everyone, including the press, wrote it down.
But then R. didn't want to reveal the names and addresses of his relatives in India, who he said he had visited prior to interviewing the crew of the Hudhud. He was also very vague in answering the question of whether he had had a conversation with the crew prior to the filmed interview, during which he may have suggested their answers.
Lastly, he revealed that during the conversation he had had with the German federal police, there had been two more police officers present. Because there had been contradictions between R.'s recollection of the conversation and the notes made by one of the officers afterwards, the court reluctantly agreed to an application by the defence to have these other two police officers heard in court.
Because the unofficial 'crown witness' X had stated that he would not answer questions from the other defence lawyers, they applied to the court to take over a list of 20 questions they had compiled for X and ask them as questions from the court. The court will decide about this at the next hearing. Both the court and X denied that there had been any out-of-court agreement between X, the prosecution and the judge regarding his statements.
This was the last trial date before the summer holidays, the next date is July 12. The judge noted that this may sound strange to those who are held in custody
An even shorter trial date today – just one announcement by the judge.
As was expected, the judge declined the application by the defence to hear the Norwegian academic Stieg Hansen for a second time, in order to verify statements made by the 'crown witness'. The defence had argued that Hansen had knowledge of tribal networks and knew informants in Somalia that would enable him to verify or otherwise what the accused had said. The judge himself had spoken to witnesses in Somalia on the phone, but was not willing to hear them in court because he said they could not be identified.
The judge countered the argument saying that referring to these tribal networks was only showing that there were no institutions in Somalia that were “orderly and not corrupt”. Even Hansen would not be able to positively identify any witnesses. This was in contrast to the Indian witnesses, who had been identified by Interpol. He did not respond to the accusation that the court was applying different standards to defence witnesses and to prosecution witnesses.
The journalist R. will be appearing one last time in court on 21 June, starting at 8:30 am.
One of the defence lawyers submits a lengthy application regarding hearing Stig Hansen, the Norwegian academic who had given evidence about the social situation Somalia at the beginning of the trial. The court had rejected the application to hear him again after allegations were made that the 'crown witness' had lied about his past. The application today was another attempt to have Hansen heard, on the grounds that the court had rejected hearing anyone from Somalia. The defence pointed out that the court had cited difficulties serving summons to people in Somalia and not being able to positively identify them as reasons not to hear any witnesses from Somalia. However, when it came to the Indian crew of the dhow, the court was happy to hear their statements via the Indian journalist without knowing being able to identify them. The court might apply different standards for witnesses for the prosecution and those for the defence.
Three other defence lawyers joined the application, the prosecutor wanted it rejected. The court will make a decision at the next hearing.
Then the judge presented a note from the French police, saying that they had no finger or palm prints from the 'crown witness'.
Finally, the court announced new trial dates, all the way to the end of November:
More contradictions and how the statements of Indian witnesses, who didn't want to appear in court, still ended up in court.
The day started with a non-public viewing of the video the journalist R. had made with two of the Indian crew from the dhow Hudhud in India. The two had stated that they didn't want to appear in court, didn't want to leave the country and, later, also didn't want to be interviewed in the German consulate. It is unclear whether the court even told them that the recordings of their conversation with R. would be used in court, let alone ask them. We wonder if the court would have proceeded in the same way if the people concerned had not been mere ship-crew but members of the upper class.
Then the 23 minute video was shown again in public, with a live translation from a teacher of the Urdu language. Sometimes the translator had difficulty understanding everything and had to leave passages out, which he substituted with “dot dot dot”. Both the translator and the journalist blamed this on the fact that the interviewed crew members were 'simple and uneducated people'. However, a few times it were the questions by the journalist, which the translator couldn't understand, and after a few attempts by the translator, the journalist himself translated what he had said in the video.
Development stages of a translation: uneducated - educated - dot dot dot
Therefore the examination of the video took hours, with one or two minutes being played and then the video being rewound and played again.
After a few hours one of the accused voiced what everyone had been thinking: “I have difficulty understanding, maybe the translator is not the right person to translate?”. The judge replied that the court didn't have a choice. However, when the translator for the Dutch captain of the frigate 'Tromp' made a few mistakes, she was swiftly replaced. Obviously this wasn't wanted in this case.
It became obvious that the journalist had asked leading questions, which meant that the 'uneducated' interviewees would give the desired answered. However, at no stage did they state what the German police officer (who had interviewed the journalist) had claimed they said: that they were appalled that some of the accused were able to attend school in Germany. The journalist had already told the court that this wasn't the case, but the police officer insisted. More discrepancies between the video and the statements by the police officer showed, and at one stage the judge said that he didn't know who to believe any more.
Because the showing of the film had taken so long, there wasn't enough time to answer all the questions from the lawyers. However, the journalist had stated before he came to court that he didn't have any more time. The judge got grumpy and told him that he could be forced by subpoena to appear in court. The journalist replied that his legal adviser had recommended that he shouldn't appear in court at all, and that he had only done so because he had promised the judge verbally to do so, and that no one could force him. It was obvious that he was disappointed in the German police officer.
The judge then told him that he would phone him in the morning to make another appointment, asking him, of all things, to think of the accused who have had to endure the proceedings for two years now.
Today, an officer of
the German Federal Criminal Office (BKA) gave evidence. The officer
had spoken with the Indian journalist R., who had given evidence the
week before. They had spoken about the interview R. had made with the
crew of the dhow Hudhud. The officer had taken notes of the
conversation – however, he had to admit that the notes were taken
several days later, and after having had a talk with the officer who
was in charge of the investigations around the Taipan.
The officer named the
person, whose family had possibly been involved in organising the
attack on the Taipan – the journalist had refrained from doing so.
The judge tried to
ascertain whether the notes were reflecting what R. had told the
officer, or what the Indian crew had told R., but that didn't really
become clear. The officer did, however, confirm that the crew had
stated that they found it scandalous that the three youngest accused
were allowed to go to school in Hamburg. This information had been
reported in the papers, but R. had refuted it.
Capitalism thrives on its contradictions and here is another one. A German tour organiser offers sailing trips for children with a pirate theme in the Dutch North Sea: “Which child hasn't dreamed of going on board like Pippi Longstocking and entering the world of the pirates” the text in their brochure says, next to a picture of children wearing skull and crossbones bandannas as well as bright orange life jackets. No one wants aspiring pirates to drown. The life jackets alone mean that these kids are better equipped than the ten Somali who were arrested on the Taipan.
A readers comment often seen on newspaper web sites is that the Somali on trial in Hamburg are 'just plain criminals' and need to be punished severely. While the reasons why people actually become pirates are rarely published, it is totally acceptable for German parents to pay money for their kids to participate in piracy as a harmless adventure. What is a game for European children is a matter of survival for others who first risk their lives and are then labelled 'terrorists' and go to prison.
Will the instructors at this holiday trip talk about the reasons why piracy exists? Will they encourage the children to think about the role they can have in creating a world where everyone has access to resources?