Court of Appeals in Qatar Commutes Death of 8 Navy Veterans

by Jan 2, 2024Blogs0 comments

My happiness really knows no bounds whatsoever and I to be dead honest just can’t control my tears from flowing freely after listening to news and reading in newspapers that the death penalty after a very long spell of uncertainty which was looming like a ‘Damocles Sword’ on the eight ex-Navy personnel sentenced to death in Qatar on October 26 by Qatar’s Court of First Instance has been set aside by a higher court – Qatar’s Court of Appeals in Doha on December 28, 2023 thus giving them reprieve from being executed. For this a lot of credit – the “Lion’s Credit” definitely goes to the Central Government led by PM Mr Narendra Modi who is in close touch with the legal team and so also with the family members of the 8 Navy Veterans. India under leadership of PM Mr Modi is striving hard to improve bilateral relations with all countries which includes Arab countries and in fact first Hindu temple is coming up in UAE which depicts how far the relationship are improving which earlier was considered next to impossible! India had described the earlier ruling of death sentence by Qatar’s Court of First Instance as “deeply shocking” and “deeply dismaying” and had vowed to explore all the legal options. They filed appeals against that verdict on November 9.

Needless to say, we have all either seen in news channels or read in newspaper or gathered information from other sources in the media that in the first significant breakthrough in the case against eight former Indian naval personnel sentenced to death in Qatar, the Court of Appeals has commuted their sentences. This was confirmed by the Ministry of External Affairs. The Ministry in a statement observed that, “We have noted the verdict today of the Court of Appeal of Qatar in the Dahra Global case in which the sentences have been reduced. The detailed judgment is awaited. We are in close touch with the legal team as well as the family members to decide on the next steps.” It has still not been disclosed that what would be the quantum of punishment for them and for how many years will they be jailed!

It must be noted that India’s Ambassador to Qatar named Vipul was also present in the Court of Appeals in Doha along with other officials and family members of the former naval officers as the landmark verdict was announced and this was disclosed by the Ministry of External Affairs. It must be mentioned that all the eight ex-Navy personnel who were arrested last year were employees of the Dabra Global defence services company. They were kept in solitary confinement for months after they were detained in August 2022. They were arrested by the Qatari authorities in Doha on August 30, 2022. It cannot be just glossed over that this leading case has been shrouded with complete secrecy since these eight ex-Navy personnel were detained last year with the governments of India and Qatar refraining to talk in public about the charges against them.

It is worth noting that while Qatar never disclosed the nature of charges against them, it is believed as disclosed by reliable sources in the media that they were held for passing on sensitive information to Israel about a Qatari submarine project. It must be disclosed here that these former Navy personnel had been working in their private capacity with Al Dahra Global Technologies which is a firm that provided training and other services to Qatar’s armed forces and security agencies to oversee the induction of Italian small stealth submarines U212. They have been identified as follows:-

1. Captain Navtej Singh Gill who is a Gold Medal winner from President when he graduated from the naval academy and later served as an Instructor at the prestigious Defece Services Staff College (DSSC) at Wellington in Tamil Nadu;

2. Captain Birendra Kumar Verma;

3. Captain Saurabh Vasisht;

4. Commander Amit Nagpal;

5. Commander Sugunakar Pakala;

6. Commander Sanjeev Gupta;

7. Commander Purnendu Tiwari who also served as Al Dahra’s Managing Director and had commanded several warships while serving with the Navy and was conferred the Pravasi Bharatiya Samman Award four years ago – the first from Indian armed forces to be awarded the highest honour for NRIs/persons of Indian origin; and

8. Sailor Ragesh.

It must definitely be mentioned here that high hopes for leniency in this leading case cropped up most prominently in December only after the Prime Minister Mr Narendra Modi met with the Qatar’s ruler Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani on December 2 on the sidelines of the UN’s climate COP 28 summit that was held in Dubai which is their first conversation since their case began. We must note that while PM Mr Modi did not address the issue directly on social media, he had said in a post that he had discussed the “well being of the Indian community in Qatar” with the Emir. It merits mentioning that the Indian Embassy in Doha has also while not lagging behind consistently applied for and received consular access to the men including on December 3 that is a day after the meeting of PM Mr Narendra Modi with the Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani.

I am also happy to note that even the Opposition Congress expressed “immediate relief along with the entire nation” for the landmark verdict in the Qatari Appeals Court. It must be definitely mentioned here that the senior Congress Leader Jairam Ramesh who is former Union Minister who has handled several key portfolios including Environment also wrote in a social media post that, “While fuller details are awaited we express the hope that even the jail sentence that has replaced the death penalty will be set aside and the officers will be set free.” No denying it!

We need to certainly bear in mind that the crucial option that could be pursued once all appeals have been exhausted as officials say is for India to request that the men be allowed to travel back and serve out their sentences in India according to the bilateral “Transfer of Sentenced Persons” agreement that was signed with Qatar in 2015 allowing persons sentenced to jail terms to complete punishment in their own country. According to the 2015 deal, it must be noted that a sentenced person may be transferred if the death penalty has not been imposed on the sentenced person; the judgment is final; no criminal proceedings are pending against the sentenced person in the transferring state in which his presence is required. The pact also applies to persons facing life imprisonment. At the time of writing this piece, it is still not clear as it remains undisclosed that what jail term would the eight ex-Navy personnel be facing! I am fully sure that Centre will definitely make the best possible efforts to secure their early release from jail in Qatar.

It is being reported in some sections of the media that the Qatari court had commuted the death sentence of all eight men and had given them prison terms of varying duration. It was reported on condition of anonymity that the prison terms vary from a few years to several years. The eight men who includes decorated officers as stated above commanded frontline warships in the Indian Navy.

It deserves mentioning that the Qatar’s Court of Appeal had held three hearings on November 23, November 30 and December 7. The Indian Ambassador was provided consular access to meet the eight men on December 3. Earlier, the families of the men had with great hopes petitioned the Emir of Qatar to pardon them.

No doubt, the Emir of Qatar usually fulfills the norm of pardoning the prisoners on Qatar’s national day that is on December 18 and during the Eid festivals. But their non consideration generated huge worries in the minds of the families of the 8 Ex-Navy personnel who had submitted a mercy plea to the Emir of Qatar which was but natural. It must be taken note that the eight men were employees of a subsidiary of Oman based Dahra Engineering and Security Services which provided training and other services to Qatar’s armed forces. It also must be borne in mind that the subsidiary was shut down in May this year.

While striking the right chord, we saw earlier how just days after the death penalty verdict that was handed on these 8 Ex-Navy personnel which India called “deeply shocking”, the Union External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar met the family members of the eight men and assured them on a very serious note that the government attached the “highest importance” to the case. We saw earlier how even the Navy Chief Admiral R Hai Kumar after death penalty was handed to them had said in response to a question on the fate of the Navy veterans that, “We are working closely with the agencies concerned to ensure that their interests are looked after. The ex-naval officers in Qatar, they are veterans…and we are interested in ensuring that their welfare is taken care of. I want to reassure you that the Indian government is putting all-out efforts to ensure that the eight former Indian Navy personnel who have been sentenced to death in Qatar are brought back.” We saw how in November, a Court of Appeal in Qatar had accepted the Indian government’s application against the death sentence.

In sum, I am cent percent sure that under the able and dynamic leadership of PM Mr Narendra Modi, India would be definitely able to secure their final release also and no stone would be left unturned to ensure that they are promptly brought back safely to India. If we don’t give credit to Central Government for doing its best to ensure that the 8 Ex-Navy personnel are taken care of in the best possible manner then it would just not be right as we would not have reached so far as we are seeing right now. Centre has firmly ensured that its Ambassador was in the Court along with other officials and right from the start all possible help was extended to the families of the Ex-Navy personnel so that they don’t have to run from pillar to post for just nothing! All this definitely played the most critical role in commuting the death penalty for which we have at least some solid reason to breathe a sigh of relief to some extent as these 8 Ex-Navy personnel who were facing death penalty for being involved in espionage for Israel had no one else to bank upon in their tough times! There is no doubt that Centre promptly filing an appeal against the death sentence and ensuring that these 8 Ex-Navy personnel were provided the best possible legal and consular aid all went a long extent to ensure that they were not awarded the death penalty by the Court of Appeals in Doha! No denying it!

Would love your thoughts, please comment.x