MOMBASA, KENYA // A judge in Kenya's second-highest court said Tuesday that the country does not have jurisdiction to try pirates if attacks have taken place outside Kenya's waters, a decision that could harm US and international efforts to have pirates tried in East Africa.
Judge Mohammed Ibrahim made the decision when he terminated a case in which nine Somali men were charged with piracy. The judge ordered the men free because the alleged attack took place in the Gulf of Aden, off the Somali coast.
"The local courts can only deal with offenses for criminal incidences that take place within the territorial jurisdiction of Kenya. The high seas are not and cannot be a place within Kenya or within the territorial waters of Kenya," Ibrahim said in his ruling.
The suspects' attorney, Jared Magolo, said the judgment means most piracy cases in Kenya will collapse for lack of jurisdiction. Magolo said the office of Kenya's Attorney General has filed an appeal with Kenya's highest court.
Kenya is holding 123 piracy suspects for trial. Another 18 suspects have been convicted and sentenced in Kenya, according to the United Nation Office on Drugs and Crime.
The international community has depended on countries like Kenya and the Seychelles to prosecute pirates who attack off East Africa. U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon recently said a special international court for pirates is being looked at.
The nine men freed by Ibrahim had been charged with piracy for an attack on a German cargo ship, the MV Courier, in March 2009.
The decision to terminate the case against the nine men comes about a week after a separate court in the port city of Mombasa freed 17 Somali men who had been captured by the U.S. Navy in May last year for allegedly attacking an Egyptian merchant ship.
Police immediately re-arrested the 17 Somali men when they were freed on Friday and charged them on Tuesday with being in the country illegally, according to Jared Magolo.
Magolo said that a magistrate ordered that immigration officials repatriate the 17 men back to Somalia despite international laws that prohibit extraditions to a country at war.