New Delhi: Qatar has released the eight former Indian Navy officers who were imprisoned in the West Asian nation, purportedly for spying for Israel.
Quiet but intense diplomatic negotiations between New Delhi and Doha bore fruit when the Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Tamim ibn Hamad Al Thani, decided to release the eight citizens of India.
The Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) in New Delhi made public the release of the eight early on Monday. Seven of the eight have already returned to India from Qatar, according to a press release issued by the MEA.
“The Government of India welcomes the release of eight Indian nationals working for the Dahra Global company who were detained in Qatar,” the MEA stated.
It has not shared the details of the circumstances in which they were released but thanked the ruler of the West Asian nation. “We appreciate the decision by the Emir of the State of Qatar to enable the release and homecoming of these nationals.”
The Emir of Qatar generally commutes sentences awarded to offenders ahead of the National Day of the country on December 18 as well as on the occasion of Ramadan, which would be celebrated around March 11 this year. It is not clear if he made an exception in the case of the eight former Indian Navy officers on New Delhi’s request.
The former Indian Navy officers had been on death row since October 26 when a lower court in the West Asian nation had awarded them capital punishment for allegedly spying for Israel.
The Court of Appeals in Qatar on December 28 spared the lives of the eight and awarded them prison sentences of varying durations. After the verdict of the Court of Appeals, their lawyers had time till February 26 to move the Court of Cassation, the highest court of the West Asian nation, for further reduction of the prison term or reversal of the conviction and acquittal. They also had the option of appealing for a pardon from the Emir of Qatar.
The former Indian Navy officers, Captain Navtej Singh Gill, Captain Birendra Kumar Verma, Captain Saurabh Vasisht, Commander Amit Nagpal, Commander Purnendu Tiwari, Commander Sugunakar Pakala, Commander Sanjeev Gupta and Sailor Ragesh, had been arrested from Doha by the Qatari intelligence service on August 30, 2022.
They had all been employees of the Dahra Global company, which had been offering training and several other services to the security agencies as well as the defence forces of Qatar.
The company had over 70 Indians, mostly former Indian Navy officials, on its staff. It had suspended its operations in Qatar last May, several months after its officials had been put in jail.
Though neither Doha nor New Delhi has ever officially made public the charges against the eight Indian Navy personnel, sources said that the Government of Qatar had accused them of espionage, particularly of passing on intelligence to Israel about a project to build advanced submarines for the Qatari Emiri Navy.
The Court of First Instance of Qatar had pronounced the verdict on October 26, awarding the death sentence to all the eight incarcerated citizens of India.
New Delhi had been in touch with Doha through diplomatic channels over the past several months to secure the release of the incarcerated Indians. The Embassy of India in Doha has also been providing consular and legal assistance to them.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani had met in Dubai on the sideline of the COP 28 (UN climate conference) on December 2.
“We had a good conversation on the potential of bilateral partnership and the well-being of the Indian community in Qatar,” Modi had posted after his meeting with Al-Thani. He however had not made it clear if he had raised the issue of the eight former Indian Navy officers on death row in Qatar during his meeting with the Emir of the West Asian nation.
The Government of Qatar provided the Embassy of India in Doha consular access to the imprisoned Indians several times. The last consular access was granted on January 14 when New Delhi’s envoy to Doha, H E Vipul, and the other officials of the embassy met them in a jail in Qatar.