Qatar court drops death penalty for 8 Indians

Qatar court drops death penalty for 8 Indians

Family members say verdict is a “step in right direction”, but will keep fighting to prove innocence of the naval personnel; PM had met Qatari Emir on December 1, raising hopes for leniency in the case

In the first major breakthrough in the case against eight former Indian naval personnel sentenced to death in Qatar, the Court of Appeals in Doha has commuted their sentences, the Ministry of External Affairs confirmed on December 28.

Vipul, India’s Ambassador to Qatar, was in the court along with other officials and family members of the former naval officers as the verdict was handed down, the Ministry said. All eight arrested last year were employees of the Dahra Global defence services company.

“We have noted the verdict today of the Court of Appeal of Qatar in the Dahra Global case, in which the sentences have been reduced. The detailed judgement is awaited. We are in close touch with the legal team as well as the family members to decide on the next steps,” the MEA said in a statement. 

‘Will fight to prove innocence’

Neither the MEA nor those aware of the appeals verdict would comment on what the terms of the “reduced” verdict were. The fact that the court has struck down the death sentence is the first positive development for the families of the eight men who have been on death row since they were convicted on October 26. They had filed appeals against that verdict on November 9. 

However, while expressing relief at the waiver of the death penalty, sources close to the families of the men expressed disappointment that the original guilty verdict in the case — believed to involve charges of espionage — had been upheld, and said they would continue to fight to prove their innocence. A source aware of the reactions from the families told The Hindu that while the verdict was a “step in the right direction”, it was “harsh for eight innocent ex-navy officers”. The real hope for the wives and children of the men in Qatari custody is to prove their innocence, and be able to bring them back to India, the source said. 

PM’s meet with Qatari Emir

Hopes for leniency in the case rose this month after Prime Minister Narendra Modi met with Qatar’s ruler Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani on December 1 on the sidelines of the UN’s climate summit in Dubai, their first conversation since the case began. While he did not address the issue directly on social media, Mr. Modi had said in a post that he had discussed the “well-being of the Indian community in Qatar” with the Emir. 

However, subsequent reports that the men had been put on a list of those pardoned by the Qatari Emir, which is released each year on National Day, December 18, proved to be unfounded, especially as officials explained that a pardon can only be given after a convicted person exhausts the appeals process.

Another option that could be pursued once all appeals have been exhausted, officials say, is for India to request that the men be allowed to travel back and serve out their sentences in India, according to the bilateral “Transfer of Sentenced Persons” agreement signed with Qatar in 2015. 

Charges not made public

“We have stood by the [naval personnel] since the beginning of the matter and we will continue to extend all consular and legal assistance. We will also continue to take up the matter with the Qatari authorities,” said the MEA in its statement, adding that no further comment was appropriate given the “confidential and sensitive nature of proceedings of this case”. The Indian embassy in Doha has also consistently applied for and received consular access to the men, including on December 3, two days after Mr. Modi’s meeting with the Qatari Emir. 

The Opposition Congress party also expressed “immediate relief along with the entire nation”, in response to the verdict in the Qatari appeals court. “While fuller details are awaited we express the hope that even the jail sentence that has replaced the death penalty will be set aside and the officers will be set free,” Congress communications chief Jairam Ramesh wrote in a social media post.

The former Indian Navy officers — Captain Navtej Singh Gill, Captain Birendra Kumar Verma, Captain Saurabh Vasisht, Commander Amit Nagpal, Commander Purnendu Tiwari, Commander Sugunakar Pakala, Commander Sanjeev Gupta, and Sailor Ragesh  —were arrested by Qatari authorities in Doha on August 30, 2022. The details of the exact charges against them have not been publicly released thus far. 

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