Qatar Hands Death Sentence To 8 Ex-Indian Navy Personnel. What Is The Case And What Are India’s Options?

The people familiar with the matter have described the eight former Indian Navy officers as those with "unblemished" tenures of up to two decades. The men had served in important positions including as instructors in the Navy.

Emir of the State of Qatar Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani waves from inside of his car

Qatar on Thursday left India 'shocked' when a court announced death sentences for eight former Indian Navy personnel. The men were arrested by the Gulf nation in August 2022. The eight were working in Qatar in a private capacity for a firm named Dahra Global Technologies and Consultancy Services (later renamed to Al Dahra Global), a private defence services provider that was extending training, logistics, and maintenance services to the Qatari Navy.

To date, Qatar has not revealed the charges against the eight Indians but media reports have claimed that the men were held over alleged espionage.

The case has the potential to impact the historically friendly ties between India and Qatar, as New Delhi has described the Qatari court verdict as "deeply shocking". The Ministry of External Affairs said in a statement that India will explore all legal options as it attaches "high importance" to the case.

Who are these 8 men?

The former Indian Navy personnel who have been awarded death sentences by the Qatari Court of First Instance have been identified as Captain Saurabh Vashisht, Captain Navtej Singh Gill, Commander Purenendu Tiwari, Captain Birendra Kumar Verma, Commander Sugunakar Pakala, Commander Sanjeev Gupta, Commander Amit Nagpal, and Sailor Ragesh.

The people familiar with the matter have described the eight former Navy officers as those with "unblemished" tenures of up to two decades. The men had served in important positions including as instructors in the Navy.

The men were arrested by Qatar on August 8, 2022, and India got consular access to them weeks later on October 1, when the Indian ambassador met them.

The Indian nationals were kept in solitary confinement after their arrest. It was only very recently that they were moved to double-bed occupancy in the jail ward.

What has India said about the Qatar court verdict?

The MEA Thursday released a statement after the verdict by the Qatari court.

"We have initial information that the Court of First Instance of Qatar has today passed a judgement in the case involving eight Indian employees of Al Dahra company. We are deeply shocked by the verdict of the 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," the MEA said.

The Indian government has categorically stated that all eight men would continue to receive full consular and legal assistance.
"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 MEA statement read.

The ministry refused to make any further comments at this juncture due to the "confidential nature of the proceedings".
It has been learnt that New Delhi has been taking up the matter with Qatar at various levels, including political. Further, the families of the eight men are reported to have filed a mercy plea with the Emir of Qatar. But there is no update on the same.

As part of the case, Qatari authorities had also arrested or detained two Qatari nationals, including the CEO of Al Dahra Global. But both of them were subsequently released.

Meanwhile, the bail pleas of Indian nationals were rejected repeatedly by the courts in Qatar. The men were officially charged on March 25 and they were subsequently tried under the Qatari law.
Indian sources have been reported as saying that the former Navy officers were working in Qatar on a "commercial basis" and that the Indian government is working to do all possible to help them.

Private firm Dahra Global Technologies and Consultancy Services, for which the Indian men worked, was owned by a retired squadron leader of the Royal Oman Air Force, Khamis al-Ajmi, who was among the arrested but was later released.

It has been reported that the Indians, while employed at Al Dahra, were involved in the induction of Italian small stealth U2I2 submarines. It was a top-secret project. As per unverified sketchy details reported in the media, the Qatari intelligence had accused the eight Indians of passing on secret data from the project to another country (Israel, as per reports).
In May this year, following the arrests, Al Dahra Global ceased its Doha operations.

What are India's options?

India and Qatar have an extradition agreement. As per the agreement, Indian nationals convicted in Qatar can be handed over to India where they can serve their remaining sentence. However, in the case of the eight former Indian Navy officers, such transfer would be tricky as the men have been handed the death penalty.

For now, India is likely to file an appeal with the Qatari judicial system to seek immediate relief. Government-to-government relations could come into play here.

And if India feels that due process is not being followed in Qatar, it could even approach the International Court of Justice. An important point to reiterate here is that the authorities in Qatar have yet to reveal the charges over which the eight Indian nationals have been handed the death penalty. This has already led to concerns about the lack of transparency by the Gulf nation in this sensitive matter.