Qatari court commutes death sentence handed to former Indian Navy officers

Team India Sentinels Thursday 28th of December 2023 03:24 PM

Representative photo.

New Delhi: In what should come as an immediate but temporary relief to India, a Qatari court on Thursday commuted the death sentence of eight former Indian Navy personnel to varying prison terms. The men, who were detained in August 2022 for unknown charges, widely believed to be espionage, had faced the death penalty since October 2023.

In a statement, the Indian foreign ministry said: “We have noted the verdict today of the court of appeal of Qatar in the Dahra Global case, in which the sentences have been reduced,” adding that New Delhi was awaiting the detailed judgment. It further said India is in “close touch” with the legal team as well as the family members to decide on the next steps.

The statement also revealed that the Indian ambassador to Qatar, Vipul, and other officials were present in the Qatari court on Thursday along with the family members of the India’s convicted.

The statement further said: “We (India) have stood by them (the Indians convicted and their families) since the beginning of the matter and we will continue to extend all consular and legal assistance. We will also continue to take up the matter with the Qatari authorities.”

It then added: “Due to the confidential and sensitive nature of proceedings of this case, it would not be appropriate to make any further comment at this juncture.”

While the court of appeal’s ruling offered an immediate sigh of relief, the specific details of the judgment and the new prison terms for the former Navy personnel remain under wraps.

The foreign ministry confirmed the reduced sentences but clarified that the specifics are “awaited”. Unofficial sources, however, indicate the new prison terms handed to the eight men range from “a few years” to “several years”.

The men, including decorated naval officers, were arrested amid speculation of espionage, but neither Qatari nor Indian authorities have officially disclosed the charges. It may be noted that the men’s trial began in March 2023 after their bail pleas were rejected multiple times. The trial was held in secret, and the defendants were not allowed to have lawyers present, as reported by some media outlets.

The former Indian Navy men arrested, charged, tried, and subsequently convicted 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 this year.

The eight former Indian servicemen’s arrest and subsequent death sentence sent shockwaves through India, as India Sentinels reported in October. Opposition political parties also condemned the verdict, with many calling for the government to take strong action to secure the release of the eight men.

This prompted intense diplomatic efforts and family appeals to the Qatari emir.

Despite the commutation, the saga for the men and their families is far from over. The foreign stated they are “in close touch” with the legal team and families to “decide on the next steps”. Sources said the government was exploring further legal avenues, potentially appealing the prison terms.

The case, shrouded in secrecy, has strained relations between India and Qatar. While the reduced sentences bring a glimmer of hope, the families and Indian authorities still face an uphill battle for the men’s release and return home.


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