New Delhi: After 18 months of detention, the eight former Indian naval veterans who were arrested, convicted to death and later commuted to prison, have been released after a pardon by the Emir of Qatar.
Welcoming their release, the Ministry of External Affairs issued a short statement in the early hours of Monday, February 12, noting that most of them have returned to India.
“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,” said the MEA statement.
While details have not been shared, the Indian statement indicates that the release was a result of a personal pardon from the Emir of Qatar Tamim ibn Hamad Al Thani.
“We appreciate the decision by the Amir of the State of Qatar to enable the release and home-coming of these nationals,” it said.
At the last weekly media briefing on February 8, the MEA spokesperson had said that they were still looking at whether to lodge an appeal against the Court of Appeal turning the death sentence into multiple prison sentences.
“In Qatar situation, the situation as far as the Court of Appeal remains the same as what I had informed you earlier. There is a 60-day window within which this process of appeal has to be filed. So that is where we are. The situation has not changed. We are in touch with the family members. We are also in touch with the legal team,” the MEA spokesperson had said four days ago.
The eight naval veterans, who had been detained since August 2022, were sentenced to death by Qatar’s Court of First Instance on October 26 last year.
India had termed itself “deeply shocked” by the verdict, but had refrained from any criticism. Even when the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi had a small tête-à-tête with Qatar at the COP summit in Dubai in December, India never explicitly mentioned whether the fate of the eight naval veterans was brought up. Modi later posted on X (formerly Twitter) that they had discussed the “potential of bilateral partnership and the well-being of the Indian community in Qatar”.
Some of the freed men who spoke to the news agency ANI said that it would not have been possible were it not for Modi’s intervention.
Working for the now-defunct Omani private company Dahra Global Technologies and Consultancy Services, they were engaged to deliver training and related services to Qatar’s armed forces. Although the specific charges have never been disclosed, media reports suggested the possibility of espionage allegations against them.
In November, the Court of Appeal accepted the Indian government’s application against the death sentences. The Court of Appeal reduced their capital punishment to imprisonment of varying terms in a judgement on December 28.
The eight men are Captain Navtej Singh Gill, Captain Birendra Kumar Verma, Captain Saurabh Vasisht, Commodore Amit Nagpal, Commodore Purnendu Tiwari, Commodore Sugunakar Pakala, Commodore Sanjeev Gupta and Sailor Ragesh.