The Indian ambassador to Qatar has met the eight former Navy officers facing death sentences in the Gulf country, the External Affairs Ministry said on Thursday.
The envoy’s meeting with the veterans happened on Sunday, two days after Prime Minister Narendra Modi met Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani on the sidelines of the United Nations climate summit in Dubai.
Arindam Bagchi, the spokesperson of the external affairs ministry, did not confirm whether Modi and the Qatari ruler had discussed the matter. “[The two leaders] had good conversation on the overall bilateral relationship as well as on the well-being of the Indian community,” Bagchi said at a weekly media briefing on Thursday.
The eight veterans were arrested by the Gulf nation in August 2022. The former officers have been identified as Captain Navtej Singh Gill, Captain Birendra Kumar Verma, Captain Saurabh Vasisht, Commander Amit Nagpal, Commander Purenendu Tiwari, Commander Sugunakar Pakala, Commander Sanjeev Gupta, and Sailor Ragesh. They worked for a private company called Al Dahra, which reportedly provides training to the Qatari Navy.
On October 26, a Qatari court of first instance sentenced the Indian veterans to death on charges that have not been made public.
After their conviction, the External Affairs Ministry had expressed shock and said that New Delhi “will take up the verdict” with Doha.
The Indian government has filed an appeal against the death sentence. Two hearings – on November 23 and November 30 – have since been held in the Court of Appeal, Bagchi said on Thursday.
A third hearing was held on Thursday, The Indian Express reported. The case will move to the Court of Cassation after the Court of Appeal hands out its verdict, the report added.
“We are closely following the matter and extending all legal and consular assistance,” Bagchi said on Thursday.
On October 30, External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar said that he had met the families of the veterans and told them that the government attaches the highest importance to the case.
Some news reports had initially suggested that they were detained on suspicion of spying for Israel. However, the Hindustan Times in November 2022 quoted unidentified Indian officials as having rejected the speculation.
The Indian embassy in Doha reportedly first learnt about the navy veterans’ detention in mid-September 2022. The Indian diplomatic mission was granted consular access to them in October and December 2022. Their families were then allowed either weekly visits or phone conversations.
The retired officers’ families have been seeking the Indian government’s help in securing their release and repatriation.