India working to free former naval officers on death row in Qatar

Family members of the eight convicts have sought Prime Minister Narendra Modi's intervention

Some of the eight veterans had served for up to 20 years in the Indian Navy. Reuters
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New Delhi is making efforts to secure the release of eight former naval officers on death row in Qatar for spying, India’s External Affairs Minister said on Monday.

The ex-Indian Navy officers, who were working for a Qatari company that provides training to the Gulf country's armed services, were given death sentences by the Court of First Instance on charges of espionage.

Subrahmanyam Jaishankar on Monday said he met family members of the eight and assured them of the government’s full support to secure their release.

Writing on X, formerly Twitter, he said he “stressed that government attaches the highest importance to the case" and "fully shares the concerns and pain of the families”.

He said the government would continue to make efforts to secure their release.

"Will co-ordinate closely with the families in that regard,” he wrote.

Indian Navy chief Admiral R Hari Kumar said “every effort” was being made to ensure the release of the former officers.

New Delhi had expressed its “deep shock” over the death penalty verdict and said it was exploring all legal options in the case.

The eight include decorated officers who worked for up to 20 years in the Indian Navy in important positions.

In 2019, one of the officers, Commander Purnendu Tiwari, was awarded the Pravasi Bharatiya Samman, the highest honour conferred on overseas Indians by the Indian embassy in Doha for enhancing India's image abroad.

The eight, who were working for Dahra Global Technologies and Consultancy Services, were arrested in August last year and had their first trial in March.

New Delhi was given consular access to the prisoners and had tried to secure their release.

The family members of the former officers have sought Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s intervention.

“We don’t have much time left. We request and plead with our Prime Minister for his personal intervention to bring our eight veterans back. We cannot think of anyone else,” Meetu Bhargava, sister of Cdr Tiwari, told the Indian Express newspaper.

Experts say the development is a diplomatic “sensitive challenge” for New Delhi given the severity of the charges and sentences, at a time it is already engaged in a diplomatic row with Canada.

New Delhi and Doha co-operate in diverse sectors led by historically close ties and enjoy regular and substantive engagement.

India's bilateral trade with Qatar in 2021-22 was $15.03 billion. India’s exports to Qatar during 2021-2022 were $1.83 billion and imports were $13.19 billion, Indian government said.

There are more than 800,000 Indian citizens living in Qatar – the largest expatriate community in the tiny oil-rich state.

“Doha is a key trade partner and energy supplier and the India-Qatar partnership is a strong and generally tension-free one,” Michael Kugelman, director of the South Asia Institute at the Wilson Centre in Washington, told The National.

“With deft diplomacy, New Delhi is likely to work through this crisis without major costs to the relationship, though of course that’s even more likely if the eight Indians get their sentences reduced or other legal relief."

Updated: October 30, 2023, 12:06 PM