Indian nationals given death sentence in Qatar over a friendly banter

News Desk: On 26th October, a court in Qatar awarded death sentences to eight ex-Indian Navy officers. These officers, who were arrested in Doha on August 30, 2022, have been languishing in the Qatar jail for over a year over the allegations of spying for Israel.

While the details of the allegations against the Indians are not known, apart from the claim that they are accused of spying for Israel, a media report dated 6th December 2022 claimed that the Indian nationals were arrested over a “friendly banter with a diplomat there.”

Notably, the Qatari court’s verdict has “deeply shocked” the Indian Ministry of External Affairs which is exploring all legal options and is in touch with the families of the convicted ex-Indian Navy officers as well as the Qatari authorities. The eight convicted former officers were arrested in August last year with the Qatari authorities not even informing the Indian authorities about the reason behind their arrest for months and when they finally did, they said that the eight ex-Indian navy officers had been charged with the offence of spying for Israel on the country’s advanced submarines.

Although the Qatar State Security, the state intelligence agency, claimed to have intercepted electronic communications establishing that the naval officers were spying on the submarine programme, a report on December 6 last year claimed that the eight former Indian Navy officers were arrested after the Qatari authorities grew suspicious over a friendly conversation of these ex-officers with an Indian diplomat posted at Doha in August last year. The Qatari authorities suspected that the eight officers in question shared “secret” information with the Indian diplomat.

Citing a source, it has been reported, “The ex-Navy men had interacted with a diplomat who they were acquainted with because of a previous professional relationship. It was purely friendly banter and nothing more. But it got the Qatar authorities suspicious.”

The report further claimed citing another anonymous source there was a high possibility that information about the friendly gathering was passed on to Qatari officials by those whose interests lined with those of one of India’s neighbours. The report, however, did not mention the name of such a country, even though it the description points towards Pakistan.

“Another source said there was a strong possibility that the information of the friendly get-together may have been passed on to the Qatari authorities by people whose interests are aligned with that of one of India’s neighbouring countries,” the report read.

It is notable that even though the detained Indians talked to their families over video conferencing in the presence of officials of the Indian embassy in Qatar, the officials could not ascertain the exact reason for their arrest.

Notably, the eight Indians were working with the Qatari Emiri Navy, on behalf of a private firm in Qatar named Dahra Global Technologies and Consultancy Services which provided training and other technical assistance to them. The eight ex-Indian Navy officers were detained on August 30, 2022. Soon after that, all traces of the company were removed from the internet. Its website went down, and other mentions of the company were removed.

The eight Indians awarded death sentence in Qatar are 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 Ragesh.

The timing of the conviction of eight Indians by Qatar raises questions amidst the ongoing Israel-Hamas war, as the country rarely gives the death penalty. The last time a person was given the death penalty in Qatar was in 2020, after a hiatus of seventeen years. In May 2020, a Nepali migrant worker who was convicted of murdering a Qatari civilian was executed by a firing squad.