Rajat Sharma


akb fullThe Court of Appeal in Qatar has commuted the death sentence given to eight former Indian Navy personnel on charges of alleged espionage. India’s diplomatic efforts achieved a big breakthrough on Thursday, when the appellate court commuted the death penalty given to all the eight accused. A statement from India’s Ministry of External Affairs said: “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 judgement is awaited. We are in close touch with the legal team as well as the family members to decide on the next steps.” Family members of the eight convicted Indians, the Indian Ambassador and several officers of the Indian embassy were present, when the court commuted the death penalty. Thursday’s verdict has come as a relief to family members and well wishers of the former Indian Navy personnel. The Indian government had raised the issue with the Qatari government for the last two months at different levels. The result is there for all to see. The eight former Navy personnel, Captain Navtej Singh Gill, Captain Saurabh Vashisht, Commander Purnendu Tiwari, Captain Birendra Kumar Verma, Commander Sugunakar Pakala, Commander Sanjeev Gupta, Commander Amit Nagpal and Sailer Ragesh were working in Qatar for a defence services prover company named Al Dahra Global Technologies and Consultancy Services. In August, 2022, Qatari intelligence agency State Security Bureau arrested them on charges of “spying”, while working for Dahra Global. This company was engaged in training Qatari military personnel and was also working on induction of Italian small stealth submarines U2I2 for Qatari Emiri Naval Force. Retd Commander Purnendu Tiwari was the managing director of the company and the former Navy personnel had been working in the company for the last four to six years. In jail, the former Navy personnel were kept in solitary confinement and had limited access to their relatives over phone. In March this year, the last of their several bail pleas was rejected, the trial began in the same month and on October 26, the court handed them the death sentence, creating shock waves in India. External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar met the relatives of the convicted ex-Navy personnel and assured them full assistance. In November, an appeal was filed, and on December 3, the Indian Ambassador met them in jail. This consular access came two days after Prime Minister Narendra Modi met the Emir of Qatar Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani on the sidelines of COP28 summit in Dubai. The External Affairs Ministry is now working on options to further reduce the jail sentence and ensure that the ex-Navy personnel are brought back to India. Former Indian diplomats and defence experts say that seeking acquittal or release of persons given death sentence in Gulf countries is a complicated exercise, and Indian government has managed to avert the death penalty, which speaks for itself. Former Foreign Secretary Shashank said, there are several countries active in the Gulf region to tarnish Prime Minister Modi’s image and spoil India’s friendly relations with Gulf countries. Prime Minister Modi has been tirelessly working on deepening friendship bonds with Gulf countries like UAE, Oman, Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar and Saudi Arabia since coming to power in 2014. The Qatari appellate court’s Thursday order has foiled the conspiracy hatched by enemies of India in the Gulf. The main credit goes to Prime Minister Modi, who took personal interest in the case and raised the matter at the highest level with Qatar. There are options now available for release of the Indians from Qatari jail. They can file mercy pleas with the Emir, who is known to grant pardon to convicts at the time of Eid or Ramadan or on Qatari National Day (December 18). Retd Vice-Admiral Anil Chawla said, the eight ex-Navy personnel may soon return to their homeland because India and Qatar had signed a bilateral agreement in 2015 under which Indian or Qatari prisoners serving time in jails can be sent to their respective countries. The final decision rests with the Emir of Qatar, who has the powers to grant pardon to convicts. The family members of the former Navy personnel can now heave a sigh of relief. Relations between India and Qatar had always been friendly. Qatar had supported India every time Pakistan did some mischief. Let us hope Qatar will adopt a liberal attitude for our citizens.

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