Qatar releases 8 jailed ex-Indian navy personnel; 7 of them back in India
STATE TIMES NEWS
New Delhi: Qatar has released eight jailed former Indian Navy personnel and seven of them returned home on Monday, in what is seen as a major diplomatic victory for India that came nearly three-and-half months after a Qatari court handed them death sentence that was subsequently commuted to varying jail terms.
Foreign Secretary Vinay Kwatra said Prime Minister Narendra Modi himself constantly supervised all the developments in the case and has never shied away from any initiatives that would ensure the return of the Indians. The seven Indian nationals reached Delhi by a private airline at around 2:35 am. At a media briefing, the foreign secretary announced that Modi will travel to Qatari capital Doha on Wednesday after concluding his two-day trip to the United Arab Emirates (UAE), but indicated that the trip was long conceived.
The foreign secretary, without elaborating, said New Delhi continues to work with the Qatari government to ensure the return of the eighth Indian quickly.
In an early morning statement, the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) said India appreciates the decision by the Emir of Qatar Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani for enabling the release and home-coming of the Indians. It is learnt that the Emir ordered the release of the eight Indians.
The Navy veterans apparently faced charges of espionage, but neither the Qatari authorities nor New Delhi made the charges against them public.
“The Government of India welcomes the release of eight Indian nationals working for the Dahra Global company who were detained in Qatar,” the MEA said.
“Seven out of the eight of them have returned to India. We appreciate the decision by the Emir of the State of Qatar to enable the release and home-coming of these nationals,” it said in a brief statement.
The eight nationals are: Captains Navtej Gill and Saurabh Vasisht, Commanders Purnendu Tiwari, Amit Nagpal, SK Gupta, BK Verma, and Sugunakar Pakala, and sailor Ragesh. Commander Tiwari could not return due to some pending paper work, people familiar with the matter said.
“We are grateful to the government and the prime minister Narendra Modi as it would not have been possible without his intervention,” said one of the returnees.
The Navy veterans were on October 26 given death sentences by Qatar’s Court of First Instance. The Court of Appeal in the Gulf nation on December 28 commuted the capital punishment and sentenced them to jail terms for varying durations. The Court of Appeal had also given 60 days time to appeal against the prison terms.
In December, Prime Minister Modi had met the Qatari Emir on the sidelines of the COP28 Summit in Dubai and discussed the “well-being of the Indian community” in Qatar.
It is learnt that National Security Adviser Ajit Doval played a key role in the negotiations with the Qatari authorities in securing the release of the Indians as he paid a number of quiet visits to Doha.
The Indian nationals, who worked with private company Al Dahra, were arrested in August 2022 reportedly in an alleged case of espionage. The charges were filed against the eight Indian navy veterans on March 25 last year and they were tried under Qatari law. In May last year Al-Dhara Global closed its operations in Doha and all those working there (primarily Indians) have since returned home.
“After completing his UAE visit, on February 14, the prime minister will travel to Doha, Qatar on February 14 afternoon. During the visit the prime minister will hold bilateral talks with Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad, the Emir of Qatar and other high dignitaries,” Kwatra said.
The foreign secretary said India is grateful to Qatar for the return of the Indians. “We are gratified on their return. We deeply appreciate the decision of Qatar’s government and the Emir to release them,” Kwatra said.
“We are happy to have seven of those Indian nationals back. Eighth Indian national has also been released and we continue to work with the Qatar government to see how quickly his return to India would be possible.”
“The prime minister has himself personally constantly supervised all the developments in this case and has never shied away from any initiatives that would ensure the return of the Indian nationals back to home,” he said.
The foreign secretary declined to comment when asked whether the Qatar Emir granted a royal pardon to the Indians.
“We can talk about different terminology etc.. whether it is a release or pardon..but I think we should see the facts of what they are. Seven of the eight Indian nationals in the Al Dahra case are back in India, back to their homes,” he said.
Former Indian Navy spokesperson Capt DK Sharma (retd) complimented the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) for quietly working assiduously that had the backing of PM Modi. “It is a great achievement of diplomacy backed by the leadership of the country,” he told PTI.
People familiar with the matter said families of the retired naval personnel were informed after they boarded the flight in Qatar.
BJP described the release of the Indian nationals as a “big diplomatic victory”.
“It is a big diplomatic win for India. It shows how India has negotiated so well that we have our Navy veterans back,” BJP spokesperson Shazia Ilmi said.
“It seemed at one point of time it would be very difficult to make it happen. But they have come back safe and sound. That is great news for every Indian. It shows how much the words of the Indian foreign ministry and Prime Minister (Narendra Modi) matter.”
Union Information and Broadcasting Minister Anurag Thakur said it is a moment of happiness that further strengthens the belief in the seriousness and ability of the Modi government to protect its citizens at any cost.
“Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi means the guarantee of life, limb and liberty of the people of India across the globe,” he said in a post on X.
The Congress said it joins the entire nation in its relief and happiness. “It sends its greetings and good wishes to them and their families,” Congress general secretary Jairam Ramesh said.
“It’s a huge relief – and a matter of quiet celebration for all Indians – that eight of our compatriots who were sentenced to death in Qatar have been freed & returned home. Congratulations to all those who worked quietly behind the scenes for their release,” said senior Congress leader and former minister of state for external affairs Shashi Tharoor.
Dr Meetu Bhargava, Commander Tiwari’s sister, said her brother hadn’t come home yet but he had been freed and the family was very happy.
“If my brother had come, our happiness would have been complete,” she told PTI Videos in Gwalior while thanking the prime minister, External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar and the government as well as the Emir.
All the former Navy officers had “unblemished stints” of up to 20 years in the Indian Navy and had held important positions including that of instructors in the force.