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Eight Former Indian Navy Officers Condemned to Death in Qatar for ‘Espionage’

Eight Former Indian Navy Officers Condemned to Death in Qatar for 'Espionage'

In a startling revelation, Qatari authorities have unveiled a harsh judgment against eight retired Indian naval officers who have been held in detention for over a year on undisclosed charges of espionage. These seasoned veterans of the Indian Navy have now been sentenced to death. The Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) expressed profound astonishment at this verdict and declared that they await a comprehensive legal judgment to shed light on the matter.

The MEA stated, “We have received preliminary information that the Court of First Instance of Qatar has, today, delivered a verdict in the case involving eight Indian employees of Al Dahra company. We are profoundly stunned by the imposition of the death penalty and eagerly await the comprehensive judgment. We are in constant communication with the family members and the legal team, diligently exploring all available legal avenues. This case holds paramount significance for us, and we have been meticulously monitoring its developments. We remain committed to extending consular and legal support and will vigorously address the verdict with Qatari authorities. Given the confidential nature of the proceedings, we refrain from making further comments at this juncture.”

MEA spokesperson Arindam Bagchi, in the weekly media briefing last week, revealed that the seventh hearing, in this case, transpired on October 3, and India is vigilantly tracking the proceedings within the court of first instance.

“We understand that a verdict is anticipated later this month. The charges were presented during the hearings, but I would prefer not to delve into the legal intricacies,” he added.

The first hearing in their trial unfolded on March 29, but as conjecture swirled around the allegations against these Navy veterans, their family members remained uninformed about the formal charges underlying the ongoing trial, neither from Qatari authorities nor from Indian officials who had consular access to the detainees.

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The Identity of These Eight Indian Nationals

The eight detained former Indian Navy officers, in the custody of Qatari authorities, have been identified as Captain Navtej Singh Gill, Captain Birendra Kumar Verma, Captain Saurabh Vasisht, Commander Amit Nagpal, Commander Purnendu Tiwari, Commander Sugunakar Pakala, Commander Sanjeev Gupta, and Sailor Ragesh.

Their Place of Employment

These individuals were employed by Al-Dahra Global Technologies and Consultancy Services, a private company specializing in providing training and other services to Qatar’s armed forces. It is a private entity offering training and various services to Qatar’s defense and security agencies, owned by an Omani national. Al Jazeera reports that the company was closed in May 2023. This company had a workforce of approximately 75 Indian nationals, the majority of whom were former Navy personnel. Commander (retired) Purnendu Tiwari, one of the detainees, served as Al Dahra’s managing director and commanded several warships during his service with the Navy. In 2019, he received the Pravasi Bharatiya Samman Award from former Indian President Ramnath Kovind.

Allegations by Qatar

After months of detention, Qatari authorities disclosed that these eight former naval officers were allegedly engaged in espionage against Qatar’s classified submarine program on behalf of Israel. According to local media reports, the detentions were based on suspicions of leaking sensitive and confidential information to Israel.

Chronology of Events

On August 30, 2022, Qatar’s State Security Bureau, its intelligence agency, detained eight former Navy officers, including some highly decorated ones. They were held without formal charges, and media reports suggested they were implicated in espionage. The Indian Express reports that, while in custody, the officers were granted the opportunity to communicate with their families at the end of September.

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In September 2022, the first bail plea for these detained officers was presented, a month after their detention in solitary confinement. Regrettably, the plea was dismissed, and subsequent bail requests met similar fates.

In November, the families of these officers finally had the chance to interact with Ambassador Deepak Mittal at a ‘Meet the Ambassador Open House’ event organized by the Indian Embassy in Doha. The Indian Embassy had earlier issued a circular, expressing readiness to address any pressing consular issues or grievances of Indian nationals in Qatar. It has now been nearly three months since the State Security Bureau took these former naval officers into custody.

In January of this year, India’s Ambassador to Qatar, Deepak Mittal, met with the eight detained former Indian naval officers. During the third consular visit, Ambassador Mittal reassured them that they would soon be reunited with their families.

The initial hearing took place on March 29 and was attended by the defense attorney appointed for the case. The second trial occurred in June 2023. Qatar has extended consular access to these captive former officials on three separate occasions. On October 1 of this year, India’s Ambassador to Qatar, Deepak Mittal, visited the imprisoned men after being granted consular access.

Statements by the External Affairs Ministry (EAM)

External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar had previously informed the Rajya Sabha that the Indian government maintains constant communication with the Qatari government, underscoring the importance of these officers. He stated, “This is a highly sensitive case, and their welfare is our foremost concern. Our ambassadors and senior officials are in continuous contact with the Qatari government. We assure you, they are our top priority.”

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Additionally, Minister of State for External Affairs V. Muraleedharan informed the Lok Sabha that the expenses incurred by the Indian government for legal assistance in Doha have increased significantly, from Rs 7.4 lakh in 2022 to Rs 8.41 crore by June 2023. He provided a detailed breakdown of the Indian Community Welfare Fund (ICWF) allocations for all 119 Indian diplomatic missions and consulates worldwide.

Meetu Bhargava, the sister of one of the detained former officers, had previously sought government assistance to secure her brother’s return. In a post on X, formerly Twitter on June 8, she appealed to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, stating, “These ex-Navy officers are a source of national pride. I respectfully request our Hon’ble Prime Minister, with folded hands, to expedite their immediate return to India without further delay.” This message was tagged to PM Modi and Union ministers Amit Shah and Rajnath Singh.

These Ex Navy officers are the pride of the nation & again I request our Hon’ble Prime Minister with folded hands that it is high time that they all are brought back to India immediately without any further delay pl.@narendramodi @AmitShah @rajnathsingh @MOS_MEA

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— Meetu Bhargava (@DrMeetuBhargava) June 8, 2023

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