Eight former Indian Navy personnel, arrested by Qatari authorities in August last year, have been sentenced to death. Responding to the development, the Ministry of External Affairs on Thursday expressed shock over the verdict and said India will take up the matter with Qatari authorities.
The officers were jailed on charges that have not been made public.
“We are deeply shocked by the verdict of 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,” an MEA press release stated.
“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. Due to the confidential nature of proceedings of this case, it would not be appropriate to make any further comment at this juncture,” it added.
The first hearing in their trial was held on March 29. But even as speculation has swirled about the accusations against the Navy veterans, family sources said they had not been informed of the formal charges under which the trial is being held, either by Qatari authorities or by Indian officials who have had consular access with the prisoners.
The men were picked up by the State Security Bureau, the Qatari intelligence agency, on the night of August 30 last year. The Indian Embassy first learnt about the arrests in mid-September. On September 30, the men were allowed “brief telephonic contact” with family members. The first consular access — a visit by an official of the Indian embassy — was granted on October 3, more than a month after they were taken into custody. Since then, they have been allowed weekly phone calls to family members.
The men have been held in solitary confinement, and there is no public information of the charges against them. Their families have been urging New Delhi to secure their expeditious release.
The arrest of the veterans, all working for Dahra Global Technologies, first came to light with the tweet of the sister of a former commander who was also the managing director at the firm and has been in Doha since 2013, training Qatar’s navy personnel.
In November last year, Meetu Bhargava, sister of retired commander Punendu Tiwari, sought help from the government to bring her brother back. “I made a tweet on October 25 and appealed to Prime Minister Narendra Modi to bring back my brother who is in illegal detention in Doha, Qatar. My brother is a retired navy officer and he went there to provide training to Qatari Navy through his company Dahra Global Consultancy Services.”
Indian Navy Officers arrested for spying for Israel?
The eight veterans — Captain Navtej Singh Gill, Captain Saurabh Vasisht, Commander Purenendu Tiwari, Captain Birendra Kumar Verma, Commander Sugunakar Pakala, Commander Sanjeev Gupta, Commander Amit Nagpal and Sailor Ragesh — were working at Dahra Global Technologies and Consultancy Services, a defence services provider company owned by an Omani national, a retired squadron leader of the Royal Omani Air Force. He too was arrested along with the eight Indians, but was released in November.
There was speculation in media that Qatar claimed to have intercepted electronic communication which revealed that the arrested men spied on behalf of Israel on Qatari navy’s secret project of Italian midget submarines that could evade radar detection.
In 2019, Tiwari was awarded the coveted Pravasi Bharatiya Samman, the highest honour conferred on overseas Indians by the Indian government, on the recommendation of the Qatari government.
In December last year, External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar said that the Indian side was constantly in touch with the government of Qatar, as he assured the arrested Indians were a priority for the country, ANI had reported.
“This is a very sensitive case. Their interests are foremost in our minds. Ambassadors and senior officials are in constant touch with Qatar’s government. We assure, they’re our priority,” the EAM said during his address to the Rajya Sabha.