Eight Indian Navy veterans sentenced to death in Qatar, charges unknown

The failure of the Indian government to secure the release of eight Navy veterans sentenced in Qatar is embarrassing for the government and the PM

Representative image (photo: National Herald archives)
Representative image (photo: National Herald archives)

AJ Prabal

On 26 September, a court in Qatar sentenced eight Indians to death. Curiously, though they have been in prison for the past 14 months, charges against them have not been disclosed. Neither the Qatari government nor the Indian government has bothered to explain why they were picked up for questioning in August 2022, and what the contents of the charge sheet are against them.

All the eight had earlier served the Indian Navy and were employed by a Doha-based consultancy, Al-Dahra. They were picked up in August 2022 for questioning and were sentenced to death on Thursday.

The eight are 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 Ragesh.

While there has been some speculation regarding Qatar's reported claims that the eight men are guilty of espionage, the charge has not been confirmed.

According to reports, they were initially kept in solitary confinement but in the past few months, were allowed to share cells. Indian diplomats had access to them and presumably helped them secure the help of lawyers to defend themselves. But the Indian diplomatic mission to Qatar and the ministry of external affairs (MEA) in New Delhi have been tight-lipped about the charges.

A cryptic press statement from the MEA on Thursday revealed little, reading as follows:

“We have initial information that the Court of First Instance of Qatar has today passed a judgement in the case involving 8 Indian employees of Al Dahra company. We are deeply shocked by the verdict of death penalty and are awaiting the detailed judgement. We are in touch with the family members and the legal team, and we are exploring all legal options. 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. Due to the confidential nature of proceedings of this case, it would not be appropriate to make any further comment at this juncture.”

Yet another Indian Navy officer, Kulbhushan Jadhav, was arrested in Pakistan on charges of spying and sentenced to death by a military court in 2017. The International Court of Justice, however, had stayed the execution in 2019. Jadhav has been in a Pakistani prison since then, and efforts to get him released have not yet succeeded.

Posting on X, India's former ambassador to UAE and Iran KC Singh wrote, "This espionage trial should never have been allowed to take place, knowing how opaquely the judiciary functions in Gulf sheikhdoms. There’s only one escape route. The ruler has to intervene & grant a pardon & deport the persons."

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