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German lawyers launch pirate defense team

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With the EU leading the efforts to prosecute Somali pirates, it might seem strange that lawyers from its own ranks are prepared to press the pirates' case. Yet the attorneys say it is a matter of human rights: Their aim is to guarantee the accused get a fair trial – and that cannot happen in Kenya, where a presumption of innocence does not exist, according to Oliver Wallasch.

Mr. Wallasch, one of the attorneys leading the defense team and the founder of the European Criminal Lawyers Advisory Panel, filed a civil lawsuit against the German government on Tuesday alleging it violated the human rights of Ali Mohamed aw-Dahir, one of the men facing trial in Kenya.

According to the 12-page complaint, the German government agreed to have the accused pirates moved to the Shimo La Tewa prison in Kenya knowing full well the deplorable conditions at the facility, which houses 3,500 inmates in overpopulated cells and where prisoners can contract deadly health infections in as little as six weeks. The German government "consciously and deliberately gave [Mr. Dahir] into danger of death or health risk," the complaint reads.

"It was a political decision to ask Kenya to have jurisdiction in this case, and you often have something like a smelly fish when political decisions are made," says Wallasch. "Kenya is not involved at all."

Does German law apply?

It is unlikely that a civil case against the German government will postpone criminal proceedings in Kenya, which are expected to last six months. But it could cut through the EU-Kenya agreement and compel legal authorities to ultimately change the trial's venue to Germany, Wallasch says.

Right now, the lawyers do not even know whether Kenya's courts will allow them to represent the accused pirates in the criminal case, though they are standing by to do just that, Wallasch says.

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