New Delhi: A court in Qatar on Thursday awarded the death penalty to eight former Indian Navy personnel on reported charges of espionage, which the Indian government called “deeply shocking” and said it would take up the matter with Qatar.
New Delhi has said it will challenge the verdict, adding that it attaches high importance to the case, and was in touch with the family members of the eight Indians. The government said it was exploring all legal options and will continue to extend all consular and legal assistance. It added it did not want to make any further comment at this stage “due to the confidential nature of the proceedings of this case”.
The charges on which the eight Indians have been given the death sentence have still not been spelt out officially by Qatar and New Delhi too has not stated these in public, only saying that the charges levelled by Qatar against the eight Indians were presented as part of the hearings. According to media reports over the past several months, the eight Indians had been accused by the tiny oil-rich Gulf nation of spying for Israel on a secret Qatari programme related to stealth submarines.
The eight Indian former naval personnel were reportedly employees of an Oman-based company Dahra Global Technologies and Consulting Services, a company advising on a Qatari programme aimed at obtaining high-tech Italian-made submarines that could evade radar detection and providing training for Qatar’s Navy. They were all reportedly picked up from their residences in Qatar in August last year for questioning and subsequently detained.
This is the second case in recent years involving former Indian naval personnel, after former Indian naval officer Kulbhushan Jadhav was sentenced in 2017 by a Pakistani military court to death on charges of “espionage and sabotage”. India had dragged Pakistan to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in that case and Islamabad has not yet implemented the death penalty.
The eight Indian former naval personnel in Qatari custody were earlier identified by media reports as (former naval personnel) Navtej Singh Gill, Birendra Kumar Verma, Saurabh Vashisht, Amit Nagpal, Purnendu Tiwari, Sugunakar Pakala, Sanjeev Gupta and Ragesh. Most of them were officers, of the rank of captain or commander.
In its statement on Thursday, New Delhi said: “We have initial information that the Court of First Instance of Qatar has today passed a judgment in the case involving eight Indian employees of Al Dahra company. We are deeply shocked by the verdict of death penalty and are awaiting the detailed judgment. 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. We will also take up the verdict with the Qatari authorities. Due to the confidential nature of the proceedings of this case, it would not be appropriate to make any further comment at this juncture.”
External affairs ministry spokesperson Arindam Bagchi had said at his weekly media briefing last week that the seventh hearing in the matter had taken place on October 3 in the Qatari court hearing the case, adding that both the Indian ambassador in Qatar and India’s deputy chief of mission there had met the eight men in prison on October 1 after New Delhi had been granted consular access to these men.