India promises all support for release of 8 men sentenced to death in Qatar for alleged spying


India will continue to make all efforts to secure the release of eight former Indian Navy personnel who have been sentenced to death in Qatar, according to Foreign Minister S. Jaishankar. India’s diplomatic challenge in the Middle East at the moment concerns the fate of these eight veterans.

The naval officers were arrested by Qatar’s State Security Bureau in Doha on August 30 last year, and the death sentence handed out on October 26 this year sent shockwaves across India.

Jaishankar met the families of the detained men on October 30, and stressed that the government attaches great importance to the case. The families have been travelling between Doha and Delhi ever since the arrests, trying to get their voices heard.

“Met this morning with the families of the 8 Indians detained in Qatar. Stressed that Government attaches the highest importance to the case. Fully share the concerns and pain of the families. Underlined that Government will continue to make all efforts to secure their release. Will coordinate closely with the families in that regard,” Jaishanker said on X, formerly Twitter.

The detained men worked for Dahra Global Technologies and Consultancy Services, a private firm that provided training and related services to Qatar’s armed forces. The personnel include decorated officers who commanded major Indian warships. And Some of them worked on a highly sensitive project including Italian technology-based midget submarines with stealth characteristics.

Those sentenced are Capt Navtej Singh Gill, Capt Birendra Kumar Verma, Capt Saurabh Vasisht, Cdr Amit Nagpal, Cdr Purnendu Tiwari, Cdr Sugunakar Pakala, Cdr Sanjeev Gupta and Sailor Ragesh.

As soon as the sentence was proclaimed, India’s Ministry of External Affairs said it was shocked by the verdict and would take up the issue with Qatari authorities. However, lack of transparency in the trial in Qatar has undermined the faith of their families in the judicial process, said Meetu Bhargava, sister of Commander Purnendu Tiwari who is among the eight men.

Bhargava had come forward in October last year to seek the Centre’s help for their release. In a post on X, on June 8 this year, she again appealed to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to intervene. “These Ex-Navy officers are the pride of the nation & again I request our Hon’ble Prime Minister with folded hands that it is high time that they all are brought back to India immediately without any further delay,” read her post, tagged to PM Modi and Union ministers Amit Shah and Rajnath Singh. Now she has sought the Prime Minister’s “personal intervention” citing shortage of time.

The charges against the eight men have not been made public, but there have been reports, including in the UK daily Financial Times, that they have been charged with espionage. “We want all eight of our men back. Not just my brother, but all eight,” Bhargava said over the phone to The Indian Express. The most difficult part for her was to inform her 85-year-old mother about her brother’s death sentence. “My brother is a senior citizen. He is 63 years old. He was awarded the Pravasi Bharatiya Samman in 2019. Why would he spy? Why would he do anything like this at his age?” she added.

The trial has been opaque, the verdict tragic and the timing inopportune, when the Middle East is entangled in the war between Israel and Hamas. India has three options to consider to get the men out. The country could reach out to top legal experts in Qatar to appeal the sentence in the higher court and also pursue a mercy petition to the Emir of Qatar who has the right to pardon. The second is to activate the transfer of prisoners agreement signed in 2015 between India and Qatar by which a person convicted of a crime can be transferred to his or her home country to serve the prison sentence. For this, the death sentence has to be converted to imprisonment. Finally, India could approach the International Court of Justice.


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