Qatar frees Indian Navy veterans previously sentenced to death
Qatar has released eight former Indian Navy officers previously sentenced to death on alleged espionage charges, New Delhi announced early Monday. Seven of the men have already landed in the Indian capital, and praised Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the authorities for assisting in their release.
India’s Ministry of External Affairs said it appreciated the decision by the emir of Qatar to “enable the release and home-coming” of the former naval officers. The move, described by the Indian media as a diplomatic triumph for New Delhi, came after extensive discussions between the two sides.
The Indian veterans, who were employees of Oman-based Dahra Engineering & Security Services, were arrested by Qatar’s intelligence service in August 2022. Although the details of the charges were not revealed, New Delhi said it had been “deeply shocked” by the sentences handed down by a Qatari court and vowed to explore all legal options to secure their release.
The sentences were commuted in December by the appellate court in Qatar, weeks after Modi met Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad Al-Thani at the COP28 summit in Dubai. It was suggested at the time that the two leaders had discussed the matter.
Several media outlets speculated that the veterans had been arrested on espionage charges. Qatar may have had evidence suggesting that the former officers had passed on intelligence to Israel, Mint newspaper reported last year. Neither the Qatari authorities nor New Delhi made the charges against the men public.
After their release, the veterans were received by embassy officials and taken to India on an Indigo Airlines flight, the NDTV news channel reported.
“We would like to thank Prime Minister Narendra Modi as our release was secured due to his personal intervention and the emir of Qatar for making [our release] possible,” one member of the group said upon reaching India. “We would not have been standing here in front of you if not for the intervention at the highest level. The government of India’s consistent efforts made our release possible,” another of the veterans stated.
#WATCH | Delhi: One of the Navy veterans who returned from Qatar says, "We waited almost for 18 months to be back in India. We are extremely grateful to the PM. It wouldn't have been possible without his personal intervention and his equation with Qatar. We are grateful to the… pic.twitter.com/5DiBC0yZPd— ANI (@ANI) February 12, 2024
The men’s release comes days after India signed a $78 billion deal to extend LNG imports from Qatar, a key energy supplier. The agreement, the biggest ever of its kind for New Delhi, extends cooperation to 2048 and involves cut-price rates that will help India save around $6 billion over the duration of the contract.