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  India   All India  13 Feb 2024  Win for India, Qatar frees ex-Navy men

Win for India, Qatar frees ex-Navy men

THE ASIAN AGE. | SRIDHAR KUMARASWAMI
Published : Feb 13, 2024, 1:26 am IST
Updated : Feb 13, 2024, 1:26 am IST

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Former Indian naval personnel, who were jailed and handed down death sentences in a case of suspected espionage in Qatar, arrive in India following their release, in New Delhi, early on Monday.  (PTI)
 Former Indian naval personnel, who were jailed and handed down death sentences in a case of suspected espionage in Qatar, arrive in India following their release, in New Delhi, early on Monday. (PTI)

New Delhi: In a huge diplomatic win for India and Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government, the Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, ordered the release of the eight Indian nationals and former naval personnel who were sentenced earlier to “varying prison terms” on alleged charges of spying for Israel. In the early hours of Monday morning, New Delhi put out a statement announcing and welcoming the release of the eight Indians, of whom seven have already returned to India. India also thanked the Qatar Emir for the release of the eight Indians, who had been earlier sentenced to death by a Qatari court in October 2023 but which was later commuted to varying prison terms in December by a higher court in the tiny oil-rich Gulf nation. The eight Indians were in the process of filing an appeal in Qatar’s highest court for their acquittal when the country’s ruler ordered their release and allowed them to return to India, in a huge relief for them and their families.

“The Government of India welcomes the release of eight Indian nationals working for the Dahra Global company who were detained in Qatar. Seven out of the eight of them have returned to India. We appreciate the decision by the Emir of the State of Qatar to enable the release and homecoming of these nationals,” the MEA said in the early hours Monday. It may be noted a conversation had taken place at a meeting in early December last year between Prime Minister Modi  and the Qatar Emir on the sidelines of the COP28 summit in Dubai. While New Delhi had declined to go into the specifics of that conversation between the two leaders, it is believed Mr Modi had sought the Qatar Emir’s intervention.

The former naval personnel were shown on TV channels praising Mr Modi on their return for his personal intervention in securing their release. The eight Indian former naval personnel in Qatari custody were earlier identified in media reports as Navtej Singh Gill, Birendra Kumar Verma, Saurabh Vashisht, Amit Nagpal, Purnendu Tiwari, Sugunakar Pakala, Sanjeev Gupta and Ragesh. Most of them were officers of captain or commander rank. Of the eight Indians, seven had earlier served as officers in the Navy while one was a sailor.

Minister of state for external affairs Meenakashi Lekhi hailed the role of Mr Modi and the Qatar Emir in the release of the eight Indians. I&B minister Anurag Thakur also hailed Mr Modi’s efforts and said it was proof of India’s rising prestige on the global stage in the past decade. New Delhi had always reiterated it stands by the eight Indians and would continue to extend all consular and legal assistance to them as well as continue to take up the matter with the Qatari authorities for their release, which has now been accomplished successfully.

The eight Indians were earlier sentenced to death by Qatar’s Court of First Instance on October 26, 2023, reportedly on espionage charges. Two months later, on December 28 last year, the Qatari Court of Appeal had commuted the death sentences of all these eight Indian nationals to “varying prison terms”, and had also given a time-period of 60 days to the eight Indians to file an appeal, should they choose to, in the Court of Cassation, the highest court in Qatar’s judicial system. Some media reports suggested the eight Indians had been sentenced to jail terms ranging from three years to 25 years of imprisonment.

It may be recalled that going by media reports in the past several months, the eight Indians were accused by the Gulf nation of spying for Israel on a secret Qatari programme on stealth submarines. The eight Indians were reportedly employees of an Oman-based company, Dahra Global Technologies and Consulting Services, which was advising on a Qatari programme aimed at obtaining high-tech Italian-made submarines that could evade radar detection and providing training for Qatar’s Navy. They were all reportedly picked up from their residences in Qatar in August 2021 for questioning and subsequently detained before being convicted. The charges were never spelt out in public by Qatar.

Tags: indian navy, espionage case, death sentence
Location: India, Delhi