On February 12, 2024, India appreciated the decision of the Qatar government and its Amir to release of eight Indian Navy Veterans who were initially convicted to death on espionage charges and later commuted to prison. Seven of them have returned successfully in New Delhi.
Addressing the media on February 12, 2024, India’s foreign secretary Vinay Mohan Kwatra said “Eighth Indian national has also been released and we continue to work with the Qatar government to see how quickly his return to India is possible.”
As per reports, only Commander Purnendu Tiwari has not returned yet. Although he has been released from prison along with others, it is not clear why he is not back yet. “We are grateful for their return. We are gratified on their return. We deeply appreciate the Qatar government and its Amir to release. We are happy to have seven of those Indian nationals back,” Kwatra said.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi has himself personally and constantly supervised all the developments in this case and has ever shied away from any initiatives that would ensure the return of Indian nationals back home, the foreign secretary said.
Earlier in the day, the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) in a statement 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 retuned to India. We appreciate the decision by the Amir of the State of Qatar to enable the release and homecoming of these nationals.” The move is perceived as a major diplomatic win for India.
Reports say that all the eight men will be able to live freely with their families in India. These eight men have been identified as Captain Navtej Singh Gill, Captain Birendra Kumar Verma, Captain Saurabh Vashisht, Commander Amit Nagpal, Commander Purnendu Tiwari, Commander Sugunakar Pakala, Commander Sanjeev Gupta and Sailor Rajesh.
According to a report by an Indian media agency, Captain Navtej Singh Gill was awarded the President Gold Medal for excellence when he graduated from the Indian Naval Academy and later served as an instructor at the Defence Services Staff College (DSSC) at Wellington in Tamil Nadu.
On December 28, 2023, the court of Appeal of Qatar had reduced the death sentence of these eight former Indian Navy personnel to life imprisonment ranging between three years and 25 years. Commander Tiwari who held a senior leadership position at Dahra Global was awarded the highest punishment of 25 years.
These eight men were employees of Doha based Dahra Global. They were taken into custody on August 30, 2022 by Qatar’s State Security Bureau the national spy agency of the country. Following their arrest, the they were put into solitary confinement during which some of them faced health concerns They were then placed in a double occupancy in a jail ward along with their colleagues.
Dahra Global provided training and other services to Qatar’s armed forces. The subsidiaries were shut down in May 2023. The charges against them were not made public by Qatari authorities, but reports said that they had been charged with spying for Israel.
After the initial verdict, was pronounced, India called it deeply shocking. The External Affairs Minister Subramaniam Jaishankar had also met the family members of the eight men and assured them that the government attached the highest importance to the case.
On March 25, 2023, the charges were filed against these eight men after which the trial began on March 29, 2023. In the month of May, Dahra Global suspended its operations in Doha and all Indians working there have returned since home. On December 1, 2023, Prime Minister Narendra Modi met the Amir of Qatar Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani on th sidelines of the COP-28 Summit.
Two days after this, the Indian Ambassador to Qatar, Vipul, on December 3, 2023, got consular access to meet the ex-Navy personnel and on December 28, 2023, the Court of Appeal reduced their capital punishment to imprisonment.