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Qatar releases eight former Indian Navy personnel

Feb 12, 2024 12:59 PM IST

The eight former Indian Navy personnel were sentenced to death after being detained in August 2022 on undeclared charges

Qatar has released eight former Indian Navy personnel who had been sentenced to death after being detained in August 2022 on undeclared charges, with all but one of the men returning home on Monday.

All but one of the men returned home on Monday. (HT PHOTO)
All but one of the men returned home on Monday. (HT PHOTO)

Last December, Qatar’s Court of Appeal commuted the death sentences awarded to the men – Captains Navtej Gill and Saurabh Vasisht, Commanders Purnendu Tiwari, Amit Nagpal, SK Gupta, BK Verma, and Sugunakar Pakala, and sailor Ragesh – and sentenced them to prison for varying durations ranging from three years to 25 years.

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Qatar’s Court of Appeal had also given the eight men 60 days to appeal against the prison terms, but in a surprise development, the external affairs ministry announced early on Monday that they had been released.

“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,” the ministry said in a brief statement. “We appreciate the decision by the Amir of the State of Qatar to enable the release and home-coming of these nationals,” the statement said without giving further details.

Both countries have still not revealed the charges against the men, or the conditions for their release. It had been widely reported that the men had been charged with espionage.

A team of Indian officials had been in Qatar for the past few days for the final discussions regarding the release of the eight men and to escort them to India, people familiar with the matter said on condition of anonymity. It is understood that National Security Adviser Ajit Doval and other security officials played a key role in the negotiations for their release. Doval also made several low-key visits to Doha for discussions on the matter.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi had met Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani on the margins of the COP28 Summit in Dubai in December and discussed the “well-being of the Indian community in Qatar”, according to a post on X by the premier at the time.

The people said Commander Purnendu Tiwari, who has family based in Qatar, had stayed back in Doha and is expected to return to India soon. Tiwari, who received the Pravasi Bharatiya Samman in 2019, was engaged in training Qatari naval personnel during his term with Dahra Global.

The eight men were freed on Sunday and seven of them boarded flights to India soon after. One of the men told the media on his arrival at the airport in Delhi that they were very happy to be back safe and sound. He thanked Modi for his “personal intervention” to make the release of the men possible and the Qatari emir for letting the release happen.

On December 28, Qatar’s Court of Appeal commuted the death sentences awarded last October and sentenced the eight men to prison for varying durations. The Court of Appeal initially delivered an oral order, and subsequently released a copy of the verdict that was classified “confidential document”.

Tiwari was given a 25-year prison term while Ragesh was given a three-year sentence. Four of the former naval officers were given 15-year prison terms and two others 10-year prison terms.

The commutation of the death sentence made it possible for India to invoke a 2015 agreement with Qatar on the transfer of sentenced persons. The pact allows citizens of both countries, who have been convicted and sentenced for criminal offences, to serve their prison terms in their home country. The agreement does not apply to persons sentenced to death.

India earlier expressed “deep shock” at the death sentence given by Qatar’s Court of First Instance and pledged to look at all legal options to help the eight men, including decorated officers who commanded frontline warships in the Indian Navy.

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