“Diplomatic officers have consistently pushed Qatari authorities for the release of our former servicemen, and their home-coming is courtesy months of negotiations and legal processes,” a diplomatic source within the Indian Ministry of External Affairs told The Quint after seven of eight ex-Indian Navy servicemen returned following an almost two-year-long detention in Qatar.
The Court of First Instance in Qatar passed a verdict of the death penalty to the eight men, who used to work with Dahra Global Technologies and Consultancy Services on charges of "espionage".
After being detained on 30 August 2022 without disclosure of charges, it was in December 2023 that a Qatari court reduced the death sentence of the former servicemen to imprisonments varying from 5 to 25 years.
During the early hours of Monday, 12 February, the MEA released a statement which said, “The Government of India welcomes the release of eight Indian nationals working for the Dahra Global company who were detained in Qatar. Seven out of the eight of them have returned to India. We appreciate the decision by the Amir of the State of Qatar to enable the release and home-coming of these nationals.”
While several media reports stated that the charges against the men originated from them “reportedly spying for Israel,” a source aware of the details of the court proceedings had disputed the claims and, speaking on condition of anonymity, further told The Quint that the men "were only there [in Qatar] as trainers and had no access to any classified information worthy of espionage."Diplomatic sources told The Quint“Their only job was training, and the company was held in very high regard in Qatar. The Qatar Navy Chief often used to visit their offices and training centres, and Dahra was always commended for their work.”
After they landed in India, one of the veterans said that the commutation of their death sentences to extended prison terms and eventual release was the result of sustained diplomatic efforts and legal assistance from New Delhi.How Did The Release Take Place?
The veterans did not have any prior information of their release and were taken away by embassy officials shortly after they were freed, sources told The Quint. The men boarded an IndiGo flight yesterday and returned after 2 am, they added.Sources close to the family told The Quint"We were completely blindsided by their release. Just a few days ago, we met with him and were firmly under the impression that they would be confined until the appeal process reached its end. We have no idea how this happened because an entire appeals court process was skipped.”
The men were identified 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.
Of the eight, Commander Purnendu Tiwari has not returned yet, sources told The Quint, and added that Commander Tiwari has been released from prison. but has not been able to travel to India due to pending processes, the nature of which remain unclear.
Click here to read more about who these men are.
Sources within the MEA told The Quint that the veterans, who landed in Delhi around 2 am IST, had no idea of their imminent release and were “Simply told to pack up their belongings around 10 am on Sunday.Diplomatic sources told The Quint“Embassy officials outside the prison received them. They were subsequently taken to the Indian embassy in Doha, and further to the airport to catch the first flight to Delhi.”
While in Qatar the men "were employed as trainers and had no access to any classified information worthy of espionage,” The Quint had previously reported, quoting MEA sources.
In December 2023, the appellate court in Qatar changed the death sentences of a group of individuals associated with Dahra Global to varying prison terms, ranging from three to 25 years. Commander Tiwari, a high-ranking official at Dahra Global, received the longest sentence of 25 years. Others received sentences of 15, 10, and 3 years, with Ragesh, the lone sailor among them, receiving the shortest term.
Following the reduction of their sentences by the appellate court, family members indicated their intention to appeal to the Court of Cassation, Qatar's highest judicial body, as reported by The Quint.
In early January, the MEA spokesperson stated that the legal team had been granted a 60-day window to file an appeal after receiving a confidential copy of the court order.
Spokesperson Randhir Jaiswal said that the legal team was actively evaluating the situation to determine the next steps and remained in close communication with the affected families and legal representatives.
Shedding light on the negotiations, a diplomatic source close to the case told The Quint:Diplomatic sources told The Quint“The biggest challenge was that Qatar hesitated to reveal the charges and provide access to the men for over six months after authorities first detained the men. Once we received details of the case, due legal process was followed along with a diplomatic effort to bring our nationals back home.”
However, the release came before the judicial process came to an end, possibly due to ongoing diplomatic efforts by the Indian government or the families’ Mercy Plea to the Emir of Qatar, who is known to grant pardons during Ramadan and Eid.
Moreover, sources familiar with talks also pointed out another event that “may have affected talks.”Sources close to the case told The Quint“It is interesting that just on Tuesday, on the sidelines of India Energy Week (IEW) in Betu, Delhi signed a major deal to import liquefied natural gas (LNG) from Qatar at prices starkly lower than those we’ve seen. Those negotiations were very tense and lasted for months, only to materialise around December and January, when the men were given reduced sentences.”
On Tuesday, India finalised a USD 78 billion agreement to prolong LNG imports from Qatar for an additional 20 years until 2048, securing rates below current prices. This gas will be utilised for electricity generation, fertiliser production, and conversion into compressed natural gas (CNG).
Petronet LNG Ltd, the largest importer of LNG in India, announced that it has entered into an agreement with QatarEnergy to extend the contract for purchasing 7.5 million tonnes of gas annually.
On 30 August 2022, eight men, along with two others, were apprehended on undisclosed charges and subsequently placed in solitary confinement.
By 1 October, India’s Ambassador in Doha and Deputy Head of Mission had a meeting with the eight naval veterans.
On 3 October, the first consular access was granted. CEO of Dahra Global, Khamis al-Ajmi, also sought to secure the release of his officials but was himself detained. He remained in solitary confinement for two months before being granted bail.
1 March: The veterans' final bail plea was rejected.
25 March: Charges were officially filed against the eight men.
29 March: The trial, in accordance with Qatari law, commenced.
By 30 May, Dahra Global had ceased its operations in Doha, prompting the return of all former employees, primarily Indians, to their home country.
On 4 August, the arrested men received some relief as they were transferred from solitary confinement to a jail ward, where they were housed with their colleagues, two men per cell.
On 26 October, the court handed down the death penalty to all eight men.
Further, on 9 November, India said it has filed an appeal with Qatar over the death penalty to eight former Navy personnel which was accepted on 23 November.
It was only on 28 December 2023 that the eight ex-Navy personnel were granted commuted punishments.
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