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Obligation to world community trumped initial qualms

Somali pirate trial lay judges felt global duty

by Setsuko Kamiya

Staff Writer

The lay judges who sentenced two Somali pirates to 10 years in prison Friday said that while they had initial qualms about a case they considered foreign, they came to believe it was their duty as part of the international community to try the defendants.

They also expressed hope that both Mohamed Urgus Adeysey, who said he is 23, and Abdinur Hussein Ali, 38, repent while in prison and use their time behind bars to learn basic skills, including reading and writing, so they can return to Somalia and help develop their troubled country.

The two had sought to hijack a Bahama-registered tanker operated by a Japanese company.

As of Friday evening, the pair had yet to file an appeal against their conviction by the Tokyo District Court.

Adeysey, Ali and two other Somali nationals were seized aboard the tanker by elements of the U.S. Navy near the Gulf of Aden in March 2011. Their trial, which started Jan. 15, was the first under the nation’s 2009 antipiracy law. It involved six lay judges — four men and two women ranging in age from their 20s to 60s — and three male professional judges.

The overseas element of the case included that none of the 24 crew members on the tanker were Japanese and that the pirates were taken into custody by the U.S. Navy in open waters before they were handed over to the Japan Coast Guard, which formally arrested Adeysey and Ali.

The defense team challenged the legitimacy of prosecuting the case in Japan, but the court brushed aside that argument Friday. The defense also argued that the court should keep in mind that dire poverty led the two Somalis to join a gang of pirates in order to survive.

“Initially, I didn’t understand why we were trying this case. But as we deliberated, I realized that we live in a time where the whole country needs to take part” in dealing with such an international issue, said lay judge No. 4 at a news conference after the ruling, asking that his name not be disclosed.

“It was a long trial and I had a hard time dealing with my work, but I feel it was worth serving,” he said.

“I didn’t know anything about Somali pirates, so it was difficult. I thought about the case at home, and even when I went to bed, so mentally and physically it was tough,” said lay judge No. 5, a 37-year-old company employee who also wished to remain anonymous.

Toshiro Honda, a company employee in his 50s who served as an alternate, said the trial helped him to better understand the situation in Somalia but added that the crimes the pair committed needed to be viewed separately. “(Somali piracy) does influence Japan’s economy, and I think it’s worth reflecting the views of the public in the trial,” he said.

Adeysey and Ali, who claimed it was their first participation in a hijacking attempt, told the court that they regretted their crimes and wanted to send a message to young people in Somalia to refrain from piracy.

“I hope they spend their time (behind bars) coming up with good ways to do that,” said lay judge No. 2, a female company employee who asked that her name be withheld.

Junya Toda, a 27-year-old company employee who served as lay judge No. 6, said he hoped the defendants realize the serious nature of their crimes, adding “I also hope they will come up with ideas or projects for Somali kids (that keep them from resorting to piracy).”

Another alternate, who requested anonymity, said serving in the trial for the first time sparked an interest in world affairs: “If people in Somalia think that pirates are heros and make good money, I want them to know that’s not the case. And I hope the defendants will remember that 10 years later.”