Ex-Indian Navy men’s death sentence in Qatar commuted, but quick repatriation to India unlikely

Team India Sentinels Friday 29th of December 2023 04:33 PM

Photo for representation.

New Delhi: The eight former Indian Navy officers whose death sentence has been commuted by a court of appeal in Qatar will now have to serve between three and 25 years in a Qatari prison, according to some sections of the country’s media citing sources in the know of the case. The intriguing case has been kept under a shroud of secrecy right from the men’s arrest in August 2022 to their trial and finally their appeal hearing. Even Indian officials have been tight-lipped about the case.

According to those reports, the leader of the group of the eight men has been sentenced to 25 years in prison while the most junior man received three years’ imprisonment. Four of them received a prison term of 15 years each while two of them received 10 years each.

The names of the former Navy men are 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.

Although it is unclear who the leader of the group is, Sailor Ragesh is the only one who served below the rank of an officer in the Navy. He is the one who is believed to have received the shortest prison term.

It is speculated that the convicted former Navy men may be repatriated to India where they can serve their sentences as Qatar has such a policy in force. However, it happens with convicts from only those countries that Qatar has such an extradition/deportation treaty with. India did sign such a treaty with Qatar in 2015, however Doha is yet to ratify the treaty.

Therefore, as the treaty is not in force, diplomacy analysts say it is unlikely that the emirate would deport the eight men to India to serve the remaining of their sentences in an Indian prison.

However, all hope is not lost for the return of the eight former Indian Navy personnel, many of whom are decorated sailors. The Qatari emir, Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, has the final say on such matters and he may decide to deport them to India to serve their sentences in their home country or outrightly pardon them.

Since New Delhi and Doha share very good bilateral ties, a decision favouring the eight men is expected from Qatar. However, experts say India must show some deft but delicate diplomacy to see the men released safely from the emirate keeping in view of the sensitivities of the country.

The case

Both Qatari and Indian authorities have divulged little or no information to the public regarding the arrest of the eight men, charges against them, their trial, and sentencing. However, as India Sentinels reported earlier this year quoting media reports, they were accused of spying for Israel and divulged information regarding a super-secret midget-submarine project that Qatar was undertaking with Italian technology while working for Dahra Engineering & Security Services, a Qatari subsidiary of the Oman-based Dahra Global.

Dahra Engineering & Security Services hired the eight former Indian Navy men to provide training and other services to the Qatari military. The company has been dissolved since the case started.

Qatari authorities arrested the eight men on August 30 based on, which they said later, intercepted “electronic communication” as evidence. They were initially kept in solitary confinement.

Along with them, Qatar also charged two of its nationals in this case. They are former Oman air force officer Khamis al-Ajmi, who is also the CEO of Dahra Engineering & Security Services, and the head of Qatar’s international military operations, Major General Tariq Khalid Al Obaidly. India Sentinels is not aware of what happened to them.

The eight Indian men’s trial began in April this year. A Qatari court of first instance (trial court) found the men guilty and initially sentenced the eight men to death, which triggered an outcry in India. Even opposition political parties came together to demand their release.

On December 28, a Qatari court of appeals commuted the death sentence of the eight former Navy men to imprisonment ranging from three to 25 years.

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