Espionage case: Freed, Indian Navy veterans return home from Qatar
New Delhi: Demonstrating the triumph of some deft diplomacy and business strategy adopted by India at the highest levels, seven of eight former Indian Navy officials, who were sentenced to death by a Qatari court on charges of espionage last year, returned home after being freed on Sunday.
The Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) said seven of them have returned to India and that India appreciates the decision by the Emir of Qatar to enable their release after which they returned home.
India had assured the worried families of the Indian Navy veterans that it would leave no stone unturned in securing their release.
Earlier, a Qatari Court commuted the death penalty sentence of eight retired officers it had arrested in the Dahra Global case. Qatar released the jailed former Indian Navy personnel nearly three-and-a-half months after they were handed down death sentences in a case of suspected espionage.
“The Government of India welcomes the release of eight Indian nationals working for the Dahra Global company who were detained in Qatar,” the MEA said.
“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,” it said in a brief statement.
The Navy veterans were on October 26, 2023, given death sentences by Qatar’s Court of First Instance. The Court of Appeal in the Gulf nation on December 28 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 reportedly in an alleged case of espionage.
Neither the Qatari authorities nor New Delhi made the charges against the Indian nationals public.
The charges were filed against them on March 25, 2023, 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 2023, 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 offenses to serve their sentences in their home country.
In December 2023, Prime Minister Narendra Modi met Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani on the sidelines of the COP28 Summit in Dubai.
Recently, Qatar signed a pact with India for the supply of liquefied natural gas (LNG) worth over USD 78 billion through 2048.
Now, PM Modi will again travel to Qatar on February 14, after he visits the United Arab Emirates, the Ministry of External Affairs announced on Monday.
The surprise announcement comes within a day of the release of the eight officers after 18 months of their detention.
Foreign Secretary Vinay Kwatra said the PM had been monitoring the situation constantly and did not shy away from taking the initiative.