Charges never made public; Arrested men worked for firm overseeing submarine induction. In a setback to India’s efforts at securing their release, eight former personnel of the Indian Navy, arrested in an alleged case of espionage, were handed the death sentence by a court in Qatar Thursday.
Calling the ruling “deeply shocking”, India said it is exploring all “legal options”.
The Indian nationals, all employees of Doha-based Dahra Global, were taken into custody in August 2022.
The charges against the Indian nationals were not made public by Qatari authorities. But sources said the Indians had been working in their private capacity with Dahra Global to oversee the induction of Italian small stealth submarines U2I2.
The arrested Indian were identified as 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 – all ex-Indian Navy, employed by Dahra Global.
In its reaction to the order Thursday, the Ministry of External Affairs said it is attaching “high importance” to this case and is exploring all legal options.
“We have initial information that the Court of First Instance of Qatar has today passed a judgment in the case involving eight Indian employees of Al Dahra company,” it said.
“We are deeply shocked by the verdict of death penalty and are awaiting the detailed judgment. We are in touch with the family members and the legal team, and we are exploring all legal options,” it said.
The MEA said it will 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,” it said in a statement.
“Due to the confidential nature of proceedings of this case, it would not be appropriate to make any further comment at this juncture,” it said.
The Opposition Congress urged the government to secure the release of the eight men at the earliest. Jairam Ramesh, Congress MP and General Secretary in-charge of communications, in a post on X, said, “The Indian National Congress has noted with the greatest anguish, distress and shock the most disturbing developments in Qatar regarding 8 former officers of the Indian Navy. It hopes and expects that the Govt of India will use its diplomatic and political leverage with the Qatar government to the maximum to ensure that the officers have full recourse to appeals and also do the utmost to get them released at the earliest.”
The case in Qatar tests India’s ties with the tiny but powerful Gulf state with whom it has tried to build friendly ties. Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited Qatar in June 2016. Earlier, in March 2015, the Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, paid a State Visit to India.
Considering Qatar’s heft in international diplomacy – from hosting the Taliban’s global mission in Doha to its current role in securing the release of US hostages from the captivity of Hamas – Delhi will be working the levers with the Qatari establishment.
Following their arrest last year, the former Navy personnel got some relief from Qatari authorities when they were moved out of solitary confinement and put in a double-bed occupancy in a jail ward along with their colleagues. The Qatari authorities, sources said, never gave an explanation for the exact reasons for their arrest.
Charges were also framed against two Qatari nationals, one of whom is Khamis al-Ajmi, CEO of Dahra Global. Al-Ajmi was kept in solitary confinement for a period of two months starting in October 2022 until he was granted bail.
An Omani national, who had also been detained, was released just before the beginning of the FIFA Football World Cup.
Deepak Mittal, former Indian Ambassador to Doha, met the detainees thrice during their detention by the authorities.
Sources said the MEA had been closely monitoring the situation and had extended every possible support.
“The case is in what is called ‘The Court of First Instance’. Four hearings have taken place. The families have also filed a Mercy Plea to the Emir of Qatar who is known to pardon during Ramadan and Eid,” the sources said.
Sources said the matter has been taken up by the Indian government at various official and political levels. “We remain engaged. But just like the Government of India cannot release a foreigner under trial in India, other countries also have their own judicial processes,” the sources said.
“These ex-marines were working on a commercial, for-profit basis and the government is doing everything possible that it will do for any and every Indian citizen….the matter has been taken up by the Indian government at various official and diplomatic levels. The Government is following rules in accordance with international laws and laws of the country where the marines are being held,” the source said.
In contesting the case, Delhi is following the playbook adopted in the Enrica Lexie- Italian Marine case.
Sources said in the Enrica Lexie-Italian Marine case, the Indian government had maintained a stance as per international laws, Maritime Zones Act, 1976, the Indian Penal Code, the Code of Criminal Procedure and provisions of UNCLOS 1982.
Due process of law was followed in this case, in accordance with national and international laws, and India is committed to following the same in the case of the eight former Navy personnel in Qatar, sources said.
Article source: indianexpress.com