No light at the end of the tunnel for ship guards

Laevakaitsjad.

PHOTO: TAIRO LUTTER / POSTIMEES

Estonian ship guards will soon have spent three years in India during which they've been incarcerated, released on bail, acquitted, and later found guilty and sentenced to prison again. The men are currently in jail, waiting for a ruling to set them free.

«Living conditions are the same. We are sleeping on the floor and fighting the same insects,» Lauri Ader, or prisoner no. 6146 wrote home from prison. Postimees used the help of relatives to get the questions to Ader and received his answers in late September.

Ader wrote that the only recent change is that there is a little more room in the cell the men share. «Five of the six Brits have been moved to another cell, while the Ukrainian captain has been in the hospital for several months. So there is a little more room and fewer problems,» he explained.

Captain of the Seaman Guard Ohio Valentin Dudnik's health has deteriorated notably in prison. The man is fighting skin cancer, and the Indian media claims his condition is critical. Ader was ironical when describing the level of medical care in the prison: «Medical aid in the prison has changed considerably – the doctor grew a beard.»

The ship guards, who in addition to Indians included 14 Estonian, six British, and one Ukrainian citizen, have been in prison since January of this year. The matter has been raised by several Estonian officials and diplomats during meetings with India's representatives, and the men's relatives have actively tried to draw attention to the matter in social media.

The men were sentenced to five years' imprisonment in January. The verdict was appealed; however, initial hearings scheduled for June have been repeatedly postponed on account of national holidays, strikes, and the prosecutor's failure to appear in court. The next hearing is currently scheduled for October 19.

The situation of the ship guards has recently gained traction in the United Kingdom and sparked an utterance also from Prince Harry, who said he hopes the men will be back with their families soon.

The Sun managed to secretly capture footage of Nick Dunn asking for help from his government. «We are desperate; we need your help. It is mental torture to be thrown in jail for something you haven't done,» he said.

The Foreign Office reacted to the footage by saying officials are constantly in contact with India to raise the issue during high-level meetings.

The Estonian Foreign Ministry claims as much. «We have raised the matter of the ship guards with representatives of the Indian government at every chance and demanded the trial continue without further delays,» press representative Maria Belovas said.

Belovas said that the ministry and the Estonian embassy remain in contact with relatives of the ship guards and help with dealings (money transfers, letters, medicines, and other necessities). Estonia's representatives also visit the men in jail.

«Ambassador Riho Kruuv and Consul Mats Kuuskemaa last visited the prison on September 22. The men had previously been paid a visit by Deputy Chancellor of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Annely Kolk (accompanied by the consul). It is the consul's task to make sure citizens' fundamental rights are protected and the conditions of their imprisonment correspond to those of other inmates. These conditions have been met,» Belovas explained.

Writing about life in prison, Ader reports that the conditions remain the same – heat, insects, and poor food. «We can put pasta we receive from our loved ones at home in the food. The guards have allowed smoked sausage to get through on occasion. We sometimes buy cucumber from the prison's shop and ferment it,» the man described.

«In other prison news, we had a visit by a circus that had a clown show. We did not attend as we see our fair share of clowns every day, and it would have offered little change in that regard,» he added.

The men's future remains uncertain. It is impossible to forecast when proceedings will progress as far as serious hearings during which decisions could be made. Ader summed up the time the mercenaries have spent in India as follows: «We have been in prison for a year and three months in total. This means we still need to serve three years and nine months. However, we have been kept here against our will for three years.»

TOP