Seven of the eight Indian Navy veterans, who returned to India on Monday morning, had no clue of their imminent release, NDTV reported citing sources. Qatar has released the eight former officers of the Indian Navy after dropping their death sentences, the ministry of external affairs said, crediting the Qatari emir for the decision more than 18 months after the arrest challenged diplomatic relations.
The Indian Navy veterans were accused of spying for Israel, news agency Reuters reported, though India and Qatar did not confirm the charges against them. Their death sentence, handed down in October, was dropped in December.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who “personally supervised all developments” in the case, will visit Qatar on February 14 and hold talks with its ruler, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, foreign secretary Vinay Mohan Kwatra told reporters.
The veterans, NDTV reported, were asked by jailors last night to pack their things and wait at about 9am (local time) on Sunday. They were then whisked away to the Embassy and subsequently taken to the airport, it added. They boarded an IndiGo flight that landed in New Delhi at 2am.
The veterans, who were released by the Qatar court on Monday, are Captain Navtej Singh Gill (retired), Captain Saurabh Vasisht (retired), Commander Purnendu Tiwari (retired), Captain Birendra Kumar Verma (retired), Commander Sugunakar Pakala (retired), Commander Sanjeev Gupta (retired), Commander Amit Nagpal (retired) and Sailor Ragesh (retired).
India engaged in talks for months with Qatar after the veterans were arrested in August 2022 and the case challenged ties with Doha, a crucial natural gas supplier to India, which is one of the world’s top energy importers.
The veterans, employed by a private company, were supporting a number of programmes and activities for the Qatari Navy, a person with knowledge of the case told Reuters.
The news of the release comes days after Qatari and Indian companies signed their biggest single deal for supplies of liquefied natural gas and after Modi met Sheikh Tamim on the sidelines of the COP28 climate summit in Dubai in December and discussed the “well-being of the Indian community in Qatar”.
More than 8 lakh Indian citizens live and work in Qatar.
Where is another veteran?
People familiar with the matter said Commander Purnendu Tiwari stayed back in Doha and is likely to come back to India soon.
Dr Meetu Bhargava, the sister of Tiwari, told news agency PTI Videos that she kept patient during this stressful time and would have been happier had he also returned to the country, and added that he would come back soon.
The ministry of external affairs in a statement on Monday said India appreciates the decision by the Emir of Qatar to enable the release and homecoming of the Indians, who were arrested in August 2022.
Bhargava said she would have been happier had her brother also returned with them. “But I am happy for him now. We also spoke (to him). He is fine in the embassy and has now gone back home to Doha. I came to know that he will be coming soon and I will be very happy once he returns,” she said.
Timeline of the case
- On October 26, 2023, the Indian Navy veterans were given death sentences by Qatar’s Court of First Instance.
- On December 28, the Court of Appeal in the Gulf nation commuted the capital punishment and sentenced them to jail terms for durations ranging from three years to 25 years. The Court of Appeal had also given 60 days to appeal against the prison terms.
- In December last year, Prime Minister Modi met Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani 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 role in the negotiations with the Qatari authorities in securing the release of the Indians.
- 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. All those working there (primarily Indians) have since returned home.
(With inputs from agencies)