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Shackles and Chains for Chinese Witnesses

Federal Judge David Ezra on Friday in Honolulu ordered 30 Chinese fishermen held with out bail and approved their continuing to be chained and shackled when brought to court despite admitting that the US government had no intention of charging any of them with a crime.

“They are not being treated any different than anyone else,” Judge Ezra stated following protests by the Chinese Counsulate in Los Angeles against the use of hand cuffs and leg shackles on the Chinese nationals who are being held as both defense and prosecution witness in a murder/mutiny on the high seas case.

The 30 Chinese nationals were crew on a Taiwanese-owned fishing boat whose cook is alleged to have murdered the Captain and first officer following their refusal to comply with his demand that the fishing vessel return to China.

During what was reported to be a struggle over control of the fishing boat in international waters, the US Coast Guard boarded the vessel and subsequently took control of it and compelled its docking in Honolulu. The Chinese government is supposed to have refused jurisdiction in the case, with the US Attorney in Hawaii subsequently taking over prosecution of the murders.

On Friday Judge Ezra ordered fourteen of the Chinese fishermen held without bail as possible defense witnesses after earlier ordering 16 held as possible prosecution witnesses.

Judge Ezra was adamant that the Chinese crewmen were being treated properly and in a humane fashion. When asked why witnesses who were not going to be charged with any crime were being brought to court in shackles and chains, Judge Ezra defended his approving such treatment. “Its so they can’t flee or do harm to themselves or others,” Ezra said. “They don’t just show up here and walk around Honolulu, that’s not the way it works here or in any other country.”

Thomas Mountain lives in Hawai’i.