Eight former Indian Navy officers get death penalty in Qatar

India says it is ‘deeply shocked’, exploring legal options; adds it will take up the matter with Qatari authorities; the Indian nationals employed in Doha were accused of breaching sensitive secrets

October 26, 2023 04:40 pm | Updated October 27, 2023 03:00 am IST - New Delhi

Image for representation purpose only.

Image for representation purpose only.

Eight former Indian Navy personnel, who had been employed by a company in Doha, were handed the death penalty by a local court in Doha on October 26 in an alleged case of espionage. The Indian government expressed its shock at the verdict, and said all legal options were being explored.

The eight men have been in the custody of Qatari authorities since August 2022. The Court of First Instance of Qatar passed the judgment against them, according to a statement by the Ministry of External Affairs.

“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,” the MEA statement said, adding that India would take up the matter with the Qatari authorities.

Breaching sensitive secrets

The Indian nationals, who were employed by the Al Dahra company in Doha, were allegedly accused of breaching sensitive secrets at the time of their arrest last year. In their work with Dahra Global Technologies and Consultant Services, the former navy personnel were reportedly involved in training various security-related service providers of the State of Qatar. The company was also involved in producing high-tech Italian-origin submarines that are known for stealth capabilities.

The first trial in the case was held in March this year, followed by another in June. The men were granted consular access on multiple occasions and the Indian ambassador to Qatar met them as recently as October 1. Both sides, however, have maintained a veil of secrecy over the case in view of the sensitivities involved.

High stakes relationship

Former Indian ambassador to Qatar Deepa Gopalan highlighted the important role that a large number of Indian migrants play in fostering India-Qatar relations. “This verdict could very adversely affect relations between the two countries. There are over seven lakh Indians in Qatar and we have close economic ties. The Indian government has been following the case closely without doubt, but would need to take it up at the highest level to ensure their lives are saved,” she said.

The verdict is the first major crisis to hit the India-Qatar relationship, which has generally remained steady so far. Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited Doha in June 2016, followed by his meeting with the Emir of Qatar on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York in September 2019. External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar also visited Qatar in February 2022. According to the MEA, Qatar is the largest supplier of LNG to India, which accounts for over 48% of India’s global LNG imports. India also imports ethylene, propylene, ammonia, urea, and polyethylene from Qatar.

The verdict drew strong reactions from Opposition political parties as well. “The Indian Congress has noted with the greatest anguish, distress and shock the most disturbing development in Qatar regarding 8 former officers of the Indian Navy,” said Congress communications chief Jairam Ramesh. “It hopes and expects that the Govt of India will use its diplomatic and political leverage with the Qatar government to the maximum to ensure that the officers have full recourse to appeals and also do the utmost to get them released at the earliest,” he added.

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