The eight former Indian Navy officers jailed in Qatar and sentenced to death have been released, the External Affairs Ministry said on Monday.
“Seven out of the eight of them have returned to India,” the External Affairs Ministry said in a statement, welcoming their release. “We appreciate the decision by the Amir of the State of Qatar to enable the release and home-coming of these nationals.”
Later, Foreign Secretary Vinay Mohan Kwatra said at a press briefing that the eighth veteran officer has also been released. “We continue to work with the Qatar government to see how quickly his return to India would be possible,” said Kwatra.
He also stated that Prime Minister Narendra Modi is scheduled to travel to Doha on February 14 and hold a bilateral meeting with Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad, the Amir of Qatar.
The eight former Indian Navy officers were arrested by Qatar’s intelligence service from Doha in August 2022 and had been held in solitary confinement since. Initially, some news reports suggested that the veterans had been detained on suspicion of spying for Israel. However, the Hindustan Times quoted unidentified Indian officials as rejecting the speculation.
The former officers were working for the private company Dahra Global, which reportedly provides training to the Qatari Navy. They were 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.
In October, a Qatari court of first instance sentenced the veterans to death on charges that have never been made public.
In December, however, the country’s Court of Appeal commuted the death sentence following an appeal by the Indian government.
Speaking to media persons after their release, the veterans expressed gratitude towards Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
“We waited almost for 18 months to be back in India,” one of the former officers told ANI. “We are extremely grateful to the prime minister. It would not have been possible without his personal intervention and his equation with Qatar. We are grateful to the government of India from the bottom of our hearts for every effort that has been made and this day would not have been possible without those efforts."
Union Minister of State for External Affairs Meenakshi Lekhi said that Modi’s intervention in the matter ensured the return of the veterans.
“There were all kinds of moments in this entire episode,” Lekhi said. “We are thankful to the Emir of Qatar as well who has reversed the sentence.”
Congress MP Shashi Tharoor described the return of the officers as a “huge relief”. “Congratulations to all those who worked quietly behind the scenes for their release,” he said in a tweet.
The Indian embassy in Doha reportedly first learnt about the detention of the eight veterans in mid-September 2022. Subsequently, the Indian diplomatic mission in Doha was granted consular access. Their families were then allowed either weekly visits or phone conversations.
The retired officers’ families had sought the Indian government’s help in securing their release and repatriation.