Qatar frees eight former Indian Navy officers after handing them death sentence

Team India Sentinels Tuesday 13th of February 2024 10:48 PM

Photo for representation.

New Delhi: Eight retired Indian Navy officers walked free from Qatari custody, on Monday, ending a months-long saga that saw them sentenced to death for alleged espionage, only to have their fate reversed. The release marks a significant diplomatic victory for India and closes a chapter that had put the relations with the Gulf nation under lens.

The eight men, all working for a private consulting firm in Doha, were arrested in August 2022 on suspicion of passing sensitive information about submarine acquisitions to Israeli intelligence. A Qatari cour sentenced them to death in October 2023, triggering shock and outrage in India. The Indian government vehemently denied the accusations and launched a vigorous diplomatic campaign to secure their release.

According to diplomatic sources, New Delhi held intense behind-the-scenes negotiations with Doha. The prime minister, Narendra Modi, reportedly discussed the matter directly with Qatar’s emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, during a December meeting. Later, in December, a Qatari court of appeal eventually commuted the death sentences to prison terms, offering a glimmer of hope for the men.

As India Sentinels had reported earlier, the identities of the eight 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.

Along with them, Qatar 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 (DESS), 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. However, DESS, a subsidiary of Dahra Global, which employed the Indians to provide training and other services to the Qatari military, was shut down in May 2023.

Finally, on February 12, Qatar announced their release, citing “humanitarian considerations”. Seven of the officers have already returned to India, while the eighth’s return is being facilitated. The details surrounding their release remain somewhat opaque, with neither Qatar nor India confirming the charges or providing full explanations.

Nonetheless, as India Sentinels had reported citing other media outlets, the men were accused and found guilty of spying for Israel and divulged information regarding a super-secret midget-submarine project that Qatar was undertaking with Italian technology. Qatari authorities said they hold electronic evidence in the matter.

The men’s trial began in March 2023, and their bail pleas were rejected multiple times. The trial was held in secret, and the defendants were not allowed to have lawyers present, according to some reports.

This dramatic turn of events comes amid warming relations between India and Qatar. The two nations share strong economic ties, with Qatar being a major supplier of energy to India. Last week, India signed its biggest ever energy deal with Qatar to extend LNG (liquefied natural gas) imports from the emirate by another 20 years until 2048 at lower than current rates, helping save an estimated $6 billion over the life of the contract, according to a statement released by Petronet LNG Ltd, India’s biggest LNG importer.

BJP senior leader sparks controversy

Meanwhile, as the reports of the release of the former Navy officers from Qatar started coming in, senior BJP leader Subramanian Swamy, in a post on X said Modi must take popular actor Shah Rukh Khan with him on his Qatar and United Arab Emirates trip because it was Khan who secured the release of the former sailors while India’s foreign ministry and national security advisor “failed”.

Swamy then doubled down in his remark and reposted several other posts that highlighted it. It may be noted that Khan had recently visited Qatar and met top officials in the Gulf emirate.

However, Khan’s office released a statement and denied that he played any role in the former Navy officers’ release.


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