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Guyana court sentences two pirates to death for 2018 attack

GEORGETOWN, Guyana (AP) — A Guyanese court handed down death sentences for two men found guilty of high seas piracy attacks that killed seven fishermen off the nation’s coast in 2018, and authorities said they have broken the back of a deadly group that preyed on fishermen for years.

Nakool Manohar, 45, and Premnauth Persaud, 48, were convicted of masterminding an attack on a group of fishing vessels in waters near the neighboring South American country of Suriname in a row over access to prime fishing grounds. Seven fishermen perished, while about a dozen others were rescued after drifting on the waters for days.

Police said some of the men were thrown overboard with their hands tied or weighed down with boat batteries. Others were reportedly chopped with machetes or burned with hot engine oil and tossed into the waters of the Atlantic Ocean.

Sentencing the men on Tuesday after a jury returned guilty verdicts, Justice Navindra Singh described the attacks as heinous, saying he found “no reason not to impose the death sentence."

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“It would be reckless and irresponsible of the court to allow them to be released into society at any time,” the judge said.

He called their actions “gruesome, heinous and cold-blooded” as he imposed death by hanging.

The men can appeal the ruling to the local court of appeals and also to the Trinidad-based Caribbean Court of Justice, which is the final court for Guyana. Their lawyer declined to comment Thursday on their plans.

While death by hanging is still on local law books, no one has been hanged in Guyana since 1997 and authorities have made no effort to enforce death sentences imposed by courts. More than a dozen people are on death row in Guyana, some sentenced as far back as two decades ago.

Authorities have so far resisted lobbying efforts from the European Union and other international rights groups to scrub hanging from the law books. In some cases, appeal courts have commuted sentences to life in prison as those on death row simply bide their time behind bars.

Until the April 2018 attack, authorities had been battling such attacks along the southeastern coast with Suriname and less frequently in the northwest near Venezuela. Police at the time blamed Venezuelan gangs for the attacks.

Police figures recorded almost 30 deaths from piracy in the past decade. But police regional commander Shiv Bacchus told The Associated Press on Thursday that piracy had not been a major problem in the Berbice border region with Suriname since the arrest of the suspects.

“For all of last year we had none. For this year, none as well. I must admit that the arrest and sentencing of those responsible had led to a 100% reduction,” Bacchus said.

Police also credit the arrest and jailing of several Guyanese pirates in Suriname in the past decade for the dramatic decline in incidents.