NEW DELHI, Dec 29: Though the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) is yet to confirm, the appellate court in Qatar is learnt to have awarded imprisonment ranging from three to 25 years to the eight former Indian Navy officials while commuting their death sentences announced earlier.
Among the seven former Navy officers and one sailor who were on death row, one has now been sentenced to 25-year imprisonment, four have been given 15 years in prison, two face 10 years, and one has been sentenced to three years.
According to sources, the only sailor among the eight men received the most lenient sentence, while the officer who served as the Managing Director of Dahra Global was handed the harshest.
The MEA on Friday, responding about the details of the judgment commuting the death sentence of the 8 ex-Navy men, spokesperson Arindam Bagchi said, “We issued a detailed press release yesterday on this. At the moment, I do not have any additional information to share until we see the judgment, or the legal team gets to see the detailed judgment.
“Let me also emphasize the confidential nature of the case. I would urge again not to engage in speculation. The interest of the Indians and the family members is our foremost concern, so please bear with us. Let’s find out exactly what it is. The sentences have been reduced, but until we have more details, I do not want to comment on it. We will, of course, be discussing the next possible steps with the legal team and the family members,” he said.
“Since Fridays and Saturdays are not working days there, there will be more clarity by next week,” sources said. It is learnt the families would move the Court of Cassation, the highest court of appeal in Qatar, even as they await a copy of the detailed judgment.
Commander Rajiv Sardana (Retd), a former naval officer and a family friend of Captain Navtej Singh, one of the eight men, said their physical and mental health condition were deteriorating after 16 months of incarceration.
“They are all above 56 years, and some of them have ailments such as diabetes and high blood pressure,” he said. The eight men were present in the court on Thursday but were not around when the judgment was pronounced. It is learnt that family members were able to speak to some of those imprisoned. “While commuting the death sentence is definitely a positive development, it’s natural to feel dejected by years of imprisonment awarded,” he said.
Six appeal hearings have been held so far – three in the court of appeal and three in the lower court. The families are waiting to learn about the option of prisoner repatriation to India for the eight men. “We are going to explore all legal options, including their repatriation to India, according to India’s 2015 agreement with Qatar for the transfer of sentenced persons to India,” said a relative.
Asked whether the Indian government would resort to the 2015 agreement to bring the ex-Navy men back to India to serve their sentence here, Bagchi said at the MEA briefing, “Yes, there is such an agreement. However, I am not sure it is in effect because it requires ratification by both sides, and I would have to check whether the Qatari side had ratified that agreement. I am not yet sure on that.”
The Indian nationals, all employees of Doha-based Dahra Global, were taken into custody in August 2022. The charges against them have not been made public by Qatari authorities. According to a report in the UK daily Financial Times, they were charged with spying for Israel. They were identified as Captain Navtej Singh Gill, Captain Birendra Kumar Verma, Captain Saurabh Vasisht, Commander Amit Nagpal, Commander Purnendu Tiwari, Commander Sugunakar Pakala, Commander Sanjeev Gupta, and Sailor Ragesh Gopakumar.
Reacting to the reduction of sentence, the MEA said on Thursday, “We have stood by them since the beginning of the matter, and we will continue to extend all consular and legal assistance. We will also continue to take up the matter with the Qatari authorities.”
For the families of the veterans the fact that the court has struck down the death sentence is the first positive development but they were disappointed that the original guilty verdict in the case — believed to involve charges of espionage — had been upheld, and said they would continue to fight to prove their innocence.
On 30 August 2022, the eight were arrested by Qatar’s State Security Bureau, the country’s spy agency. Following their arrest, they were put in solitary confinement during which some of them faced health concerns.