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Thursday, 23 October 2014

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86,000 sign petition calling for prisoners, including Cumbrian man, to be released from Indian jail

More than 86,000 people have signed a petition calling for the Government to step in over the case of six prisoners – including a Wigton man – being held in an Indian jail.

John Armstrong photo
John Armstrong

John Armstrong is one of a number of former British soldiers who has been locked up in Puzhal Prison in Chennai since October.

Mr Armstrong, son of a Wigton painter and decorator of the same name, was a security guard on board the American-owned MV Seaman Guard Ohio when he was arrested. Indian authorities detained 33 of the 35 crew members, although the exact reason for their arrest remains unclear.

An online petition, titled “Help Free the Six British Ex-Soldiers from Indian Prison”, has been posted on the website change.org.

It is addressed to the Foreign Secretary, William Hague, and has now gathered more than 86,150 signatures.

The petition reads: “These men have devoted their lives to protecting others, working in the Indian Ocean on anti-piracy operations.

“The men were resting on board the support vessel in between transits from client vessels, which they protect from pirate attacks.”

Family and friends of the Britons had been holding out hope of an imminent release on bail. But Indian newspapers reported in recent days that the police filed a charge sheet.

It is unclear what charges they face.

But the 2,158-page charge sheet names 45 people, including the owners of Advanfort – the company which owns the ship – plus all 35 crew members and five locals who helped supply diesel to the ship.

The Foreign Office is understood to be liaising closely with the Indian authorities.

At the time of their arrest, Indian Foreign Secretary Sujata Singh said the crew had failed to produce documents allowing them to carry weapons and ammunition in Indian waters.

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