February 13, 2024
NEW DELHI – In a diplomatic triumph for India, eight former Indian Navy personnel, who had been serving imprisonment in Qatar since August 2022 on undeclared charges, were released by the Gulf nation with all but one returning home.
Making the announcement on Monday, the Ministry of External Affairs said India welcomes the release of eight Indian nationals, who had been working for the Dahra Global company in Qatar before they were detained.
“Seven out of the eight of them have returned to India. We appreciate the decision by the Emir of the State of Qatar to enable the release and home-coming of these nationals,” the MEA said.
The Navy veterans were given death sentences by Qatar’s Court of First Instance on October 26 last year.
The Court of Appeal in the Gulf nation on December 28 last commuted the capital punishment and sentenced them to jail terms for varying durations.
The Indian nationals, who worked with the private company Al Dahra, were arrested in August 2022 in the alleged case of espionage.
Neither the Qatari authorities nor New Delhi made the charges against the Indian nationals public.
Addressing a press conference, Foreign Secretary Vinay Kwatra underlined Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s resolve to free the Indians.
“India is grateful for the release of its citizens. We greatly appreciate their return, and we will continue to work with Qatar to see how quickly the eight Indians return home. Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been constantly and personally supervising the entire case. He never shied away from taking any initiative that would ensure the return of the Indian nationals.
“This is a reflection of Modi’s strong leadership and bond of friendship between the two countries,” he said.
The charges against the Indians were filed against the eight Indian Navy veterans on March 25 last year and they were tried under Qatari law. After the Court of Appeal commuted the death sentence, the Indian nationals were given 60 days to appeal against the order of their jail terms.
In May last year, Al-Dhara Global closed its operations in Doha and all those working there (primarily Indians) have since returned home.
India was also looking at the possibility of invoking provisions of a bilateral pact on the transfer of sentenced persons. The pact inked between India and Qatar in 2015 provides for citizens of India and Qatar who have been convicted and sentenced for criminal offences to serve their sentences in their home country.
Modi had also briefly met Qatar’s Amir (ruler), Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, on the sidelines of the COP28 summit in Dubai on December 1 last year, where the two discussed the “well-being of the Indian community in Qatar”. It was speculated that the matter of the Indians was widely discussed during the meeting.
Reports also suggested that an American and a Russian were also released by Qatar along with the eight Indians.
The released Navy veterans appreciated the role of the Union government in ensuring their safety and security.
“It would not have been possible for us to stand here without the intervention of Prime Minister Narendra Modi,” one of them told reporters at the airport.
Another veteran said, “We waited almost for 18 months to be back in India. We are extremely grateful to the PM. It would not have been possible without his personal intervention and his equation with Qatar.”
The development is also being seen as the victory of National Security Adviser Ajit Doval, who held many backdoor meetings with the Qatari authorities, to secure the release of the Indian detainees.
According to media reports, the released Navy veterans include Captains Navtej Gill and Saurabh Vasisht, Commanders Purnendu Tiwari, Amit Nagpal, S K Gupta, B K Verma and Sugunakar Pakala, and sailor Ragesh.
Among them, Captain Navtej Gill was awarded the President’s Gold Medal for excellence when he graduated from the Naval Academy and later served as an instructor at the Defence Services Staff College at Wellington in Tamil Nadu, they said.
Welcoming the move, Congress leader Shashi Tharoor said on ‘X’, “It’s a huge relief —and a matter of quiet celebration for all Indians — that eight of our compatriots who were sentenced to death in Qatar have been freed & returned home. Congratulations to all those who worked quietly behind the scenes for their release.”