A prison for pirates
A PAIR of dark eyes peers through a narrow slit in a metal gate. Inside, a guard scans visitors with a hand-held metal detector and bags are searched. This is the so-called pirates’ prison, a cream-coloured fortress, to contain the pirates convicted of hijacking at sea off the Horn of Africa.
Although the number of pirate attacks has dropped to their lowest level since 2008, experts say the problem has not gone away. More than 100 attempted hijackings off the coast of east Africa have been foiled so far this year, and dozens of pirates captured — raising the question of what to do with them. None of the countries in the region have been prepared to take responsibility for bandits captured at sea.
Step up the breakaway enclave of Somaliland, which declared independence from Somalia in 1991 but is not officially recognised, and volunteered its territory. The prison holds 313 prisoners. Inside the Hargeisa prison the atmosphere is relaxed but several prisoners complain they have been unjustly convicted.
“There were six of us in the boat, fishing,” said Ahmed Khalif, 21. “We were arrested and taken to the Seychelles. At the trial, we didn’t have lawyers and we didn’t know the language.” Khalif was sentenced to 10 years in jail. Abdi Gadir, who was jailed for 24 years for the same crime, complained about the discrepancy in sentences.
A British barrister who observed a trial of pirates in the Seychelles has raised questions about the legal process.
Tim Moloney QC said: “Whilst every effort was made by the parties and the trial judge to ensure that the proceedings were fair, there was a marked inequality of resources between the prosecution and defence which was capable of producing injustice. All five defendants were represented by a single lawyer.
“He had no instructions from the alleged pirates as to their defence to the charges and was simply testing the prosecution case.”
Moloney pointed out that one of the five defendants claimed he was forced into taking part in piracy after being held hostage following an earlier raid.
Even the military admits that the truth can be difficult to establish.
Captain Jeremy Hill, commander of the American frigate USS Taylor, part of the Nato counter-piracy mission, said this year it was hard to distinguish between legitimate fishermen and pirates. — The Guardian, London