Press Trust of india

Qatar releases 8 ex-Indian Navy personnel

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New Delhi: Qatar has released eight jailed former Indian Navy personnel and seven of them returned home on Monday morning, in what is being seen as a major diplomatic victory for India that came nearly three-and-half months after a Qatari court handed them death sentence that was subsequently commuted to jail terms.

Foreign Secretary Vinay Kwatra said Prime Minister Narendra Modi himself constantly supervised all the developments in the case and has never shied away from any initiatives to ensure the return of the Indians.

At a media briefing, the foreign secretary announced that Modi will travel to Qatari capital Doha on Wednesday after concluding his two-day trip to the United Arab Emirates (UAE), but indicated that the trip was long conceived.

The foreign secretary, without elaborating, said New Delhi continues to work with the Qatari government to ensure the early return of the eighth Indian.

In an early morning statement, the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) said India appreciates the decision by the Emir of Qatar Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani enabling the release and home-coming of the Indians.

The former Indian Navy personnel apparently faced charges of espionage, but neither the Qatari authorities nor New Delhi made the charges against them public.

“The Government of India welcomes the release of eight Indian nationals working for the Dahra Global company who were detained in Qatar,” the MEA said.

“Seven out of the eight of them have returned to India. We appreciate the decision by the Amir of the State of Qatar to enable the release and home-coming of these nationals,” it said in a brief statement.

The eight nationals are: Captains Navtej Gill and Saurabh Vasisht, Commanders Purnendu Tiwari, Amit Nagpal, SK Gupta, BK Verma and Sugunakar Pakala, and sailor Ragesh.

Commander Tiwari could not return due to some pending paperwork, people familiar with the matter said.

The Navy veterans were on October 26 given death sentences by Qatar’s Court of First Instance. The Court of Appeal in the Gulf nation on December 28 commuted the capital punishment and sentenced them to jail terms for varying durations ranging from three to 25 years.

The Court of Appeal had also given 60 days to appeal against the prison terms.

In December, Prime Minister Modi had met the Qatari Emir on the sidelines of the COP28 Summit in Dubai and discussed the “well-being of the Indian community” in Qatar.

It is learnt that National Security Adviser Ajit Doval played a key role in the negotiations with Qatari authorities in securing the release of the Indians as he paid a number of quiet visits to Doha.

The Indian nationals, who worked with private company Al Dahra, were arrested in August 2022 reportedly in an alleged case of espionage.

The charges were filed against the eight Indian Navy veterans on March 25 last year and they were tried under Qatari law.

In May last year, Al-Dhara Global closed its operations in Doha and all those working there (primarily Indians) have since returned home.

“After completing his UAE visit, on February 14, the prime minister will travel to Doha, Qatar on February 14 afternoon. During the visit the prime minister will hold bilateral talks with Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad, the Amir of Qatar and other high dignitaries,” Kwatra said on Monday.

The foreign secretary said India is grateful to Qatar for the return of the Indians.

“We are gratified on their return. We deeply appreciate the decision of Qatar’s government and the Amir to release them,” Kwatra said.

“We are happy to have seven of those Indian nationals back. The eighth Indian national has also been released and we continue to work with the Qatar government to see how quickly his return to India would be possible,” he said.

“The prime minister has himself personally constantly supervised all the developments in this case and has never shied away from any initiatives that would ensure the return of the Indian nationals back to home,” he said.

Asked whether the Qatari Emir granted a royal pardon to the Indians, the foreign secretary declined to comment.

“We can talk about different terminology etc.. whether it is a release or pardon..but I think we should see the facts for what they are. Seven of the eight Indian nationals in the Al Dahra case are back in India, back to their homes,” he said.

“We are gratified about it and appreciate the gesture of the Emir of Qatar for the release,” he said.

The Indian nationals arrived at the Delhi airport by a private airline at around 2:35 am.

People familiar with the matter said their families were informed after they boarded the flight in Qatar.

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