We did nothing wrong; we aren’t enemies of Qatar: freed former Naval officer 

We did nothing wrong; we aren’t enemies of Qatar: freed former Naval officer 

Former Commander Amit Nagpal says still unaware of why they were arrested for espionage and thanks PM Modi and the Indian Embassy for their efforts to have them released.

Days after returning to India after his release along with other colleagues and former Naval personnel accused of espionage in Qatar, former Indian Naval Commander Amit Nagpal says he has no idea of why they had been arrested. Protesting his innocence, Mr. Nagpal spoke to The Hindu about his ordeal, and that of his family’s for the past 18 months, as he thanked PM Modi and the Indian Embassy for their efforts to have them released. While seven men have returned to India, the eighth, former Managing Director of Dahra Global Technologies, former Commander Purnendu Tiwari is still in Doha, believed to be under a ban on travel for now. Excerpts:

 How did you hear about your release — give us a sense of the moment you knew you would be free?

 I came to know when I was going to be free only when I walked out of that facility [Prison in Doha on February 11] and I saw [Indian Ambassador Vipul] standing in front of me. I asked him, “Are we out, are we going home?”. He said, “’Yes, you’re going home.’ and that’s the moment I realised…” Before that we had no clue at all about what’s going to happen. The suddenness with which we went in…with the same suddenness we came out. Even my wife who had been in Qatar throughout this ordeal had no clue this was going to happen. So it was a very, very pleasant surprise.

 Were you in touch with your family throughout?

 Well, I remember the first time I spoke to my wife Munga — I was put on speaker, and she just said, “Amit I’m not leaving [Doha] without you.” That gave me the strength I needed. This kind of situation is not a punishment for an individual as much as it is for the family. And for an individual, if the family is okay, anybody can go through this kind of ordeal. 

 Why did you originally decide to move to Qatar? 

 Well, there was this opportunity to train the Qatari Navy. I’ve been a career naval officer since 1990. I joined NDA in 1987. So, this is my core competence, and they gave me an opportunity to train another country, which I was happy to do. India has been training in this region for a long time. We were the first to go in there…. So it was great to get connected to a company which was training in the Middle East and we did immensely well. Unfortunately, it had to end this way. 

 Tell us about the arrest…

 The minute I was arrested, I knew things were very serious, but I always believed that as I had done nothing wrong, if not today, certainly tomorrow I would be out of this mess. And I had full faith that the authorities would understand that we had done nothing wrong at all. So, I didn’t really think about the charges because I knew I was innocent. 

 Even so, many innocents don’t get released — how were you helped by the Indian Embassy in Qatar during the trial? 

 We saw two ambassadors, while we were [in prison] and we also received consular access in the last five-six months. The Ambassador gave us a lot of confidence, and most importantly they opened their doors for the families and said come and speak to us anytime, chat on the phone, send messages.  I know the government would have said please help them but what an individual does is important. In particular, Ambassador Vipul, and before him Ambassador Mittal (Previous ambassador to Qatar) and their team’s attitude was amazing.  

 And then in October 2023, the court pronounced the death sentence against all eight of you…

 Those were the most difficult days. I had by then made a routine for myself, but I could not even follow my routine. We didn’t actually know about the sentence in court — I heard it on the news and then my wife actually told me. I couldn’t believe it, because the sentence was not even proportionate to whatever they thought we did. When I spoke next to my wife, she said that the government is now going to take the charges more seriously. They were going to meet External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar, and that gave me a lot of confidence. 

 It was after that sentence that we saw the intervention at the highest level by Prime Minister Modi on December 1. Do you wish it had come earlier and who do you credit with your freedom?

 I can’t go into whatever has happened, but I guess so… if [the intervention] could have happened now, it could have happened earlier as well. But it’s behind us now. I want to thank my wife, my children and my mother who were alone at home most of the time. I would credit the government and our Prime Minister — this [release] could have happened only at the highest level. There’s no doubt in my mind that the release order would have only come from the Emir [Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani’ would have only given the order if the Prime Minister had spoken to him. I’m sure that is connected. So I would like to thank both the Emir, Government of Qatar as well as our own Prime Minister. He is definitely the man who got us out.

 Many reports suggested geopolitical factors were behind your arrest — some connected it to India’s position on the Israel-Hamas conflict, others pointed to a Pakistani connection. How did these reports affect you? 

 Why were we arrested and why did we go through this — I have no clue why it happened. I hope in the future sometime I do come to know why we actually went through this [ordeal].  Were we really to blame, because we did nothing wrong. All these media reports about Israel — these are all utter nonsense. We had done nothing at all, we had not spoken to anybody at all.  We are not enemies of Qatar. These spying cases only take place between enemies. Why would we… when we were doing well, we did a lot of [work] for them, and people there were very happy with us. It’s just unimaginable what happened to us. And as we were sitting inside [prison] and watching these reports on television, our mind would just wonder whether all these events would affect our case. But we had no clue what was happening.

 What sort of message would you have for others in Qatar — an Indian community of more than 800,000. 

 That’s a [great] question because I think people here must be wondering if they should go to Qatar after what their compatriots have been through. I think they should — I wouldn’t stop anybody from going there. It is a nice country and has many opportunities to grow. But at the same time, I would say that pray to God, that this kind of thing doesn’t happen to you or anybody else.

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