India’s envoy meets 8 former naval officers on death row in Qatar

India’s envoy meets 8 former naval officers on death row in Qatar

India’s ambassador to Qatar met with the eight ex-naval officers facing death sentences in the Arab country, the Indian foreign ministry said.

The meeting took place on 3 December within the prison.

A ministry spokesperson said that a court in Qatar conducted two hearings pertaining to India’s appeal against the initial verdict, with a third hearing scheduled for the near future.

“We are closely following the matter and extending all legal and consular assistance… Our ambassador got consular access to meet all eight of them in prison on December 3,” the Indian Ministry of External Affairs’ official spokesperson Arindam Bagchi said on Thursday.

Qatar had sentenced the eight Indian former naval officers to death back in October. India had expressed shock at the time and affirmed its commitment to exploring all available legal avenues.

The eight men were employees of the Al Dahra consulting company which advises the Qatari government on the acquisition of submarines.

Neither Qatar nor India has disclosed the specific charges against the eight. But according to Times of Israel, the retired navy men were arrested last year on suspicion of spying for Israel on Qatar’s military submarine programme.

The Financial Times quoted an unidentified source who is familiar with the matter as saying that the eight have been “charged with spying for Israel”.

Qatar rarely enforces the death penalty. The last recorded execution in the Gulf state occurred in 2020, with the preceding one taking place in 2003.

Last month India filed an appeal against the death sentences handed by Qatar.

“An appeal has already been filed in the case,” Mr Bagchi said at the time as he asserted that the officers will continue to receive consular support from New Delhi.

“The judgment is confidential and has only been shared with the legal team. They are now pursuing further legal steps and an appeal has already been filed. We will also remain engaged with the Qatari authorities in this matter,” he said.

Identified as 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 Rajesh, the veterans were detained in Qatar in August last year.

Two days before the Indian envoy met with the officers, Indian prime minister Narendra Modi had a meeting with the emir of Qatar, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, during the COP28 summit in Dubai.

Writing on X/Twitter, Mr Modi said: “On the sidelines of the #COP28 Summit in Dubai yesterday, had the opportunity to meet HH Sheikh @TamimBinHamad, the Amir of Qatar. We had a good conversation on the potential of bilateral partnership and the well-being of the Indian community in Qatar.”

The families of the Indian former naval officers have also sent a plea for clemency to the emir of Qatar.