In a press release, India’s Ministry of External Affairs has announced the death sentence of the former Indian Navy officers arrested in Qatar. The sentence has now been reduced to jail terms.
In a massive relief for eight former Indian Navy personnel, who were sentenced to death by a Qatari court in October for alleged espionage, the Qatar Court of Appeal on Thursday commuted their capital punishment to imprisonment for different terms.
The eight navy personnel working for a Qatari defence contractor ‘Al-Dahra’ were arrested in August 2022 on unspecified charges and kept in detention for over a year.
The officials were convicted by the Court of First Instance on October 26, triggering a strong reaction from India, which expressed “deep shock” and its commitment to explore all legal avenues for their assistance.
Last month, India had filed an appeal against the verdict, which was heard by the Court of Appeal on Thursday. While the matter was heard, the Indian ambassador to Qatar and other officials were present in the court along with the relatives of the arrested officials.
According to PTI sources, the Court of Appeal reduced the sentences of all eight men and gave them jail terms. The sources said the death penalty was “off the table” and a detailed judgment is awaited.
The Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) confirmed in a statement that the sentences had been “reduced” but did not give any details. It said the Indian side was in close touch with the legal team and the families of the men to “decide on the next steps”.
“We have noted the verdict today of the Court of Appeal of Qatar in the Dahra Global case, in which the sentences have been reduced. The detailed judgment is awaited,” the MEA said.
“We have stood by them since the beginning of the matter and we will continue to extend all consular and legal assistance. We will also continue to take up the matter with the Qatari authorities,” it added.
The MEA also said that due to the “confidential and sensitive nature” of the case, it would not be appropriate to make any further comment at this stage.
According to Hindustan Times, the Indian side would work with the legal team to explore options, including filing a further appeal against the prison terms given to the men. “This is all part of a process and it will continue,” one of the sources was reported to have said.
The eight arrested men are Captains Navtej Gill and Saurabh Vasisht, Commanders Purnendu Tiwari, Amit Nagpal, SK Gupta, BK Verma and Sugunakar Pakala, and Sailor Ragesh. They were all employed by a subsidiary of Oman-based Dahra Engineering & Security Services, which provided training and other services to Qatar’s armed forces. The subsidiary was shut down in May this year.
Reports have suggested that the men were accused of spying for India, though neither Qatari nor Indian authorities have disclosed the exact charges against them.
Earlier, the families of the men had appealed to the emir of Qatar to pardon them. The emir usually grants clemency to prisoners on Qatar’s national day on December 18 and during the Eid festivals.
The eight men are among the coveted officers of the Indian Navy, who had commanded frontline warships in the past. Therefore, the conviction had drawn attention and support from various quarters, including former naval chiefs and many Indian veterans.