On 26th October 2023, eight ex – Indian navy officers who have been held captive in Qatar for more than a year were sentenced to death by a court there for allegedly spying for Israel. The details of the charges on the eight men haven’t been formally made public by the Qatari authorities. The Indian government announced that they were shocked by the judgement and said no comments shall be made further due to the “confidential nature of proceedings”, however they assured to take up the verdict with Qatari authorities and promised to investigate all legal possibilities to ensure its people’ release.
Who are the eight retired Indian Navy personnel?
The former Indian Navy personnel are identified to be Captain Navtej Singh Gill, Captain Saurabh Vashisht, Commander Purnendu Tiwari, Captain Birendra Kumar Verma, Commander Sugunakar Pakala, Commander Sanjeev Gupta, Commander Amit Nagpal and Sailor Ragesh.
The eight individuals were outstanding soldiers and held important positions during their time of service. Commander Purnendu Tiwari (retd) was awarded Pravasi Bharatiya Samman in 2019 i.e. the highest honour for Non – resident Indians. He commanded the amphibious vessel INS Magar as a navigation officer. Navtej Gill, who received the President’s gold medal for being the finest cadet, additionally instructed at the Defence Services Staff College (DSSC). Commander Amit Nagpal (retd) was an expert in communication and electronic warfare, while Commander SK Gupta (retd) specialised in gunnery. Captain BK Verma (retd) concentrated on navigation and steering. Captain Saurabh Vasisht (retired) and Commander Sugunakar Pakala (retired) were both naval technical officers. The eighth person, identified only as Ragesh, worked as a sailor.
“I knew the seven officers and they were brilliant at their jobs. They were the cream of the navy. One was a senior of mine; another was a course-mate and the others were my juniors. The verdict is shocking,” said Captain DK Sharma (retd in 2019) who is a former navy spokesperson who had known and served with these officers.
What were these retired Navy men doing in Qatar?
According to the sources, these ex – navy men were working on “commercial basis” for Al Dahra Global Technologies that is a defence service provider company, that is owned by an Omani national, Khamis al – Ajmi, who was an ex – squadron leader of the Royal Oman Air Force. Earlier, the company was said to be closely associated with Qatari authorities and it provided logistics and maintenance services for Qatar’s armed forces and also facilitated training to naval soldiers.
However, Al Dahra Global Technologies, a private corporation, stopped its operations in Doha in May, and all employees (mostly Indians) subsequently returned home.
When and why were these ex – Navy officers arrested?
The retired 8 Indian Navy veterans were arrested by Qatar Intelligence agency from Doha on August 30, 2022. There has been no declaration of the charges upon these men by the Qatari authorities. However, sources claimed that the cause of arrest was ‘espionage’ for Israel. It has been said that these men were a part of a highly sensitive project involving Italian technology, that focused on development of midget submarines with advanced stealth characteristics.
Khamis al – Ajmi, the owner of Dahra Global was also arrested along with the Indians last year but he was released in November 2022.
What Ministry of External Affairs said Months Ago?
S Jaishankar, Minister of External Affairs had stated, “the Indian side is constantly in touch with the government of Qatar” as he assured the officers were the country’s priority as well, in December last year.
“This is a very sensitive case. Their interests are foremost in our minds. Ambassadors and senior officials are in constant touch with Qatar’s govt. We assure, they’re our priority,” Jaishankar had said.
“We’ve been responding to this regularly. Our embassy is actively pursuing the case. We understand that detained Indians are able to speak to their families in India over the telephone now, some of them have families staying in Doha,” Arindam Bagchi, MEA spokesperson stated as he assured that India was regularly responding to the case of ex – Indian Navy officers arrested in Qatar as the embassy actively pursued the issue.
What happened aftermath the arrest of the eight Indians?
The detained Indian nations in Qatar, who were suspected for espionage in relation to the stealth submarine initiative, faced prolonged period of limited communications. With arrest on 30th August, 2022, it wasn’t until 30th September, 2022 that they were allowed “brief telephonic contact” with their families. On October 3 2022, over a month following their initial detention, consular access was granted to them. Following the grant of consular access, the Indian government began negotiations for their release, and the detainees faced their first trial in late March.
Meetu Bhargava, sister of one of the detained officers, approached the Indian government for assistance in releasing her brother. On June 8 2023, she urged Prime Minister Narendra Modi to step in on X (previously twitter).
“These former Navy men are the pride of the country, and once more, I humbly ask our Honorable Prime Minister to please, with folded hands, bring them all back to India right now, without further delay. @AmitShah @rajnathsingh @MOS_MEA @narendramodi” she wrote on X.
What is the response of Ministry of External Affairs on the death penalty of the 8 ex – Navy men?
“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,” the Ministry of External Affairs stated shortly after the verdict was made public.
The plight of the eight former Indian Navy Officers facing the death penalty in Qatar for suspected espionage is complex and unsettling. The lack of transparency regarding the charges along with the officers’ stellar services in past has raised concern and calls for their release. The Indian government’s commitment to pursuing all possible legal avenues and providing consular assistance underscores the seriousness with which this case is being handled. The fate of these individuals remains uncertain, but the international community will be closely watching as diplomatic efforts continue in the hope of a just resolution that upholds their rights and ensures due process.
Written by: Madhu Shah