2 hearings by Qatar court in ex-navy men case: MEA | Latest News India - Hindustan Times
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2 hearings by Qatar court in ex-navy men case: MEA

By, New Delhi
Dec 08, 2023 05:38 AM IST

A Qatari court has conducted two hearings on the appeal filed by families of eight former Indian Navy personnel against the death sentence given to them, and a third hearing is expected soon, external affairs ministry spokesperson Arindam Bagchi said on Thursday

A Qatari court has conducted two hearings on the appeal filed by families of eight former Indian Navy personnel against the death sentence given to them, and a third hearing is expected soon, external affairs ministry spokesperson Arindam Bagchi said on Thursday.

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The eight men, including decorated officers who commanded frontline warships in the Indian Navy, were sentenced to death by Qatar’s Court of First Instance on October 26 after being detained for more than a year on undeclared charges. Reports have suggested that the men were accused of espionage.

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“As you know... the families and the detainees have filed an appeal. Two hearings have since been held. One, I think on November 30, and the other on November 23. I think the next hearing is coming up soon,” Bagchi said in response to questions at a regular media briefing.

“We are closely following the matter and extending all legal and consular assistance. Meanwhile, our ambassador got consular access to meet all eight of the men in prison on December 3. We will continue to follow [the matter],” he said.

Bagchi skirted a question on whether the issue of the eight men had figured when Prime Minister Narendra Modi met the emir of Qatar, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani, on the sidelines of the COP28 Summit in Dubai. He said the two leaders had a “good conversation on the overall relationship as well as the well-being of the Indian community” in Qatar.

The bail pleas of the eight men — Captain Navtej Gill, Commander Purnendu Tiwari, Captain Saurabh Vasisht, Commanders Amit Nagpal, SK Gupta, BK Verma, and Sugunakar Pakala and sailor Ragesh —were rejected numerous times and their detention extended by Qatari authorities. People familiar with the matter said the last bail pleas were rejected on March 15. On March 25, charges were filed against the men and they were informed they are being tried under Qatari law.

For a long time, the men were held in solitary confinement and not allowed to meet their families. Following the intervention of Indian authorities, officials from the Indian embassy in Qatar were given consular access to the men and meetings and phone calls were arranged with their relatives. Indian officials have been given consular access to the men at regular intervals this year, and the Indian ambassador has met them several times. The men were also moved to double-bed rooms in the jail ward.

The judgment given by Qatar’s Court of First Instance has been declared confidential and it has only been shared with the legal team of the eight men. The Indian side has repeatedly said it is engaged with Qatari authorities to find a resolution to the matter though officials have not spelled out the specifics.

Very few details about the case have been officially provided by the Indian and Qatari sides since the men were detained in August 2022. Soon after the Qatari court gave its verdict, the external affairs ministry expressed “deep shock” and pledged to look at all legal options to help the former naval personnel.

The appeal was filed in the Court of Appeal. After this, an appeal can be filed in the Court of Cassation, the highest court in the Qatari judicial system. The Court of Cassation is responsible for deciding on appeals filed against the judgments of the Court of Appeal.

The Indian side is also looking at other options to find a resolution to the matter. One option is working out an arrangement under an agreement signed by India and Qatar in 2015 for the transfer of convicted prisoners so that they can complete their sentence in their home country.

There is also the possibility of approaching the International Court of Justice or petitioning the emir of Qatar for a pardon. The families of the eight men have already filed such a mercy petition. Qatar’s ruler usually issues orders pardoning prisoners on the country’s National Day on December 18 and on the Eid festivals.

The eight men were employees of a subsidiary of Oman-based Dahra Engineering & Security Services that provided training and other services to Qatar’s armed forces and security agencies. The subsidiary was shut down in May this year. The men were believed to have been overseeing the induction of Italian-made midget stealth submarines into the Qatari Navy.

The officers among the eight men have been decorated with military and civilian honours and some have held top positions in the Indian Navy. Among the eight men, Commander (retired) Tiwari served as Al Dahra’s managing director and commanded several warships while serving with the navy.

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