A Qatar court has handed the death penalty to eight former Indian Navy personnel, a verdict that was described as “deeply shocking” by India as it vowed to explore all legal options in the case. The eight Indians were arrested in August last year in an alleged case of espionage and have since been in solitary confinement.
India, reacting to the development, said that it is attaching “high importance” to this case and is exploring all legal options.
Who are these 8 Indians?
The Indian Navy veterans, who were arrested in August 2022, are Commander Purnendu Tiwari, Commander Sugunakar Pakala, Commander Amit Nagpal, Commander Sanjeev Gupta, Captain Navtej Singh Gill, Captain Birendra Kumar Verma, Captain Saurabh Vasisht and Sailor Ragesh Gopakumar.
All of the former Navy officers had a distinguished service record of up to 20 years in the Indian Navy and had held important positions including that of instructors in the force.
In 2019, Commander Purnendu Tiwari was awarded the Pravasi Bharatiya Samman, the highest honour conferred on overseas Indians. In a post at the time, the Indian Embassy in Doha had said the award was given to Commander Tiwari for enhancing India’s image abroad.
What were they doing in Qatar?
All eight Indians worked for a private firm, Dahra Global Technologies, and Consultancy Services, which provided training and other services for Qatar’s armed forces.
The company is owned by a retired squadron leader of the Royal Oman Air Force, Khamis al-Ajmi. Ajmi too was arrested along with the Indians last year but was released in November 2022.
Sources said some of the Indians on death row were working on a highly sensitive project — Italian technology-based midget submarines with stealth characteristics.
In May, Al Dahra Global closed its operations in Doha and all those working there (primarily Indians) have since returned home.
Why were they arrested?
The eight men were arrested by Qatar’s intelligence agency on August 30, 2022. Neither the Qatari authorities nor New Delhi made the charges against the Indian nationals public yet.
According to reports, the eight men were allegedly arrested for espionage. The charges were filed against the eight Indian Navy veterans on March 25 and they are tried under Qatari law.
Their bail petitions had been rejected several times and the verdict against them was pronounced on Thursday by the Court of First Instance in Qatar.
What India is doing?
Reacting to the verdict, the Ministry of External Affairs said that they are awaiting the detailed judgement in the case and are exploring all legal options.
“We are deeply shocked by the verdict of the death penalty and are awaiting the detailed judgement. We are in touch with the family members and the legal team, and we are exploring all legal options,” the MEA said in a statement.
The government said it would continue to extend all consular and legal assistance to the Indians.
“We attach high importance to this case and have been following it closely. We will continue to extend all consular and legal assistance. We will also take up the verdict with Qatari authorities,” the MEA statement said.
It is learnt that the families of the former Indian Navy personnel had filed a mercy plea to the Emir of Qatar. However, there is no confirmation of it.