NEW DELHI (AP) — Italy on Monday strongly objected to India's decision to use a severe anti-piracy law to prosecute two Italian marines who have been held since 2012 in the deaths of two Indian fishermen.
"Italy is not a terrorist country," Premier Enrico Letta's office said in a sharply worded statement. It blasted the Indian decision to proceed under the anti-piracy law as "absolutely out of proportion and incomprehensible."
The case has sparked a bitter row between the two nations. Italy has lambasted Indian officials for keeping the marines in India for two years without filing charges.
The Indian government said last week it would exclude the possibility of a death penalty but would still prosecute the marines under the anti-piracy law. They could face up to 10 years in prison.
On Monday, the Indian Supreme Court set a Feb. 18 hearing to listen to the Italian and Indian arguments on the use of the anti-piracy law.
Should India's Supreme Court uphold the decision, that would be "absolutely unacceptable" and "injurious to the dignity of Italy as a sovereign state," Letta's office said, warning of "negative consequences" on India's relations with Italy and the European Union, as well as "just as negative repercussions on the global fight against piracy."
The marines, Massimiliano Latorre and Salvatore Girone, were part of a military security team on a cargo ship and fired at the fishermen, saying they mistook them for pirates. They are now on bail pending trial, and are living and working at the Italian Embassy in Delhi.
Italy's government "reserves the right to take every initiative," Letta's office said. "After two years without a charge, we do not intend to back off from our aim of bringing home as soon as possible Salvatore Girone and Massimiliano Latore, and seeing their dignity and their rights recognized."
Italy also has fought India's insistence on prosecuting the marines, saying the shooting happened in international waters during an international anti-piracy mission and thus Rome, not India, should have jurisdiction.
India's Home Ministry has entrusted the investigation to an anti-terror agency. The Indian attorney general has blamed delays in the case on witnesses from the cargo ship failing to return to India to give evidence.
Associated Press writer Frances D'Emilio in Rome contributed to this report.