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Malaysia court charges suspected Somali pirates

Seven suspected Somali pirates appeared Friday in Malaysian court charged with firearms offenses and, if convicted, they could face the death penalty. Malaysia is the first Asian country to take formal legal action [AFP report] against suspect pirates. Under the Malaysian Firearms (Increased Penalties) Act of 1971 [text, PDF], anyone who fires a gun with the intent to hurt another person and while committing a crime may be put to death. The suspects, who did not enter pleas, were arrested last month after allegedly firing at Malaysian authorities while hijacking [BBC report] a merchant ship in the Gulf of Aden. Three of the seven suspects are only 15 years old and will not face the death penalty because of their age. Magistrate Siti Shakirah Mohtarudin scheduled the trial [Bernama report] for March 15 in Kuala Lumpur.

Piracy in the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean is an ongoing international concern, and several countries have started taking legal action against suspected Somali pirates [JURIST news archive]. In November, Germany's Hanseatic Higher Regional Court of Hamburg [official website, in German] commenced [JURIST report] the country's first piracy trial in 400 years against 10 accused Somali pirates. Weeks earlier, jury selection began [JURIST report] in the case of five Somali men accused of an April attack on the USS Nichols, which was deployed to combat piracy in waters off the eastern coast of Africa. The trial in the US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia [official website] is the first US piracy trial in more than 100 years. In October, the UN called for nations to assist in conducting piracy trials [JURIST report]. Other countries that have attempted to prosecute suspected pirates include the Netherlands, Kenya, Mauritius, Yemen, Somalia and Spain [JURIST reports].

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