Eight former Indian Navy officers received death sentences earlier this year, the sentences were reportedly commuted by a Qatari appellate court due to espionage charges.
“We have noted the verdict today of the Court of Appeal of Qatar in the Dahra Global case, in which the sentences have been reduced,” the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) stated in a statement on Thursday, December 28. “The detailed judgement is awaited,” it continued. To determine the next course of action, we are in close communication with both the family members and the legal team.
After a Qatari court sentenced the men to death in October of this year, the MEA declared that it was “exploring all legal options.” What was the case, and what does this charge commutation mean for India? We explain.
Which eight former Navy men are in Qatar?
Eight former Indian Navy personnel were employed by Al Dahra Global Technologies and Consultancy Services, a defence services provider company, in Qatar. They were Captain Navtej Singh Gill, Captain Saurabh Vasisht, Commander Purnendu Tiwari, Captain Birendra Kumar Verma, Commander Sugunakar Pakala, Commander Sanjeev Gupta, Commander Amit Nagpal, and Sailor Rajesh.
On its former website, Al Dahra Global Technologies and Consultancy Services claimed to offer the Qatari Emiri Naval Force (QENF) maintenance, logistics, and training services. The company was identified as Dahra Global on the new website, and the connection to the QENF was not mentioned. The fact that the majority of the Indian officers held leadership positions was also left out. When they were detained, they had been employed here for four or six years by the State Security Bureau, a Qatari intelligence organization.
What accusations were made against the men?
In August 2022, the men were taken into custody. Arindam Bagchi, an MEA spokesman at the time, stated that inquiries regarding arrest charges “should be directed to the Qatari authorities.” Additionally, the family members and MEA representatives stated that they were not notified of the charges by Qatar.
According to sources, the Indians were supervising the induction of the Italian small stealth submarine U2I2 in their private capacity with Dahra Global. When the death sentences were announced, the Financial Times reported that “A person briefed on the case confirmed… that the eight Indians had been charged with spying for Israel.”
The final of the veterans’ several bail requests was denied in March 2023. Later that month, the trial got underway, and on October 26, the death penalty was imposed. S Jaishankar, the minister of external affairs, subsequently had a meeting with the men’s sentenced families.
The MEA declared in November that it had filed an appeal and that information about the charges was available to its legal counsel. On December 3, the Indian ambassador in Doha also had a meeting with them in prison. Days after meeting Qatar’s Emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani, on the fringes of the COP28 conference in Dubai on December 1, Prime Minister Narendra Modi was granted consular access.
Which options have been open to India?
One was the legal challenge, which was accepted and initially assisted in reducing the sentence. India has been corresponding with Qatar through diplomatic channels at the same time.
The families also appealed for mercy to the Emir of Qatar, who is renowned for pardoning people during the holy months of Ramadan and Eid. With assistance from the Indian government, this was also being pursued.
India needed to secure a breakthrough because the case was confidential and the accused were former Indian defence personnel. Furthermore, Qatar and India have a close relationship and are significant partners. About 8 lakh Indian migrants are living in Qatar who remit money home. It sent the eighth-highest amount of remittances of any country in FY 2021–2022.
In addition to interpersonal relationships, there are strong defence and economic ties. “India’s total imports from Qatar in FY2022-23 were valued at $16.81 billion, of which LNG imports alone were worth $8.32 billion, or 49.5%, an analysis of official trade data shows,” the press reported.
The relationship faced its first major setback in June 2022 when the Qatari government demanded that India issue a public apology for BJP spokesperson Nupur Sharma’s disparaging remarks about the Prophet on a TV show. India needed to defuse another source of tension in the ties in this particular context.