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Who are the 8 Indian Navy veterans sentenced to death by a court in Qatar, and what is the case against them?

Context- Eight former Indian Navy personnel have been sentenced to death by a court in Qatar. They were arrested by Qatari authorities on August 30, 2022 and have since been under solitary confinement. Their trial began on March 29 this year.

The Ministry of External Affairs said on Thursday (October 26) that it was “deeply shocked by the verdict of death penalty” and was “awaiting the detailed judgement”. The Ministry also said that it was “exploring all legal options”.

(Credits- Britannica)

The reasons for the veterans’ long custody in Qatar, and the awarding of the death penalty, are not in the public domain. The families of the veterans were not apprised of the formal charges under which the trial was being held.

Who are these Indians, and what were they doing in Qatar?

  • The eight former Navy personnel — Captain Navtej Singh Gill, Captain Saurabh Vasisht, Commander Purnendu Tiwari, Captain Birendra Kumar Verma, Commander Sugunakar Pakala, Commander Sanjeev Gupta, Commander Amit Nagpal and Sailor Ragesh — were working at Al Dahra Global Technologies and Consultancy Services, a defence services provider company.
  • The company is owned by an Omani national, Khamis al-Ajmi, a retired squadron leader of the Royal Oman Air Force. This man too, was arrested along with the eight Indians, but he was released in November 2022.
  • The company’s old website, which no longer exists, said it provided training, logistics and maintenance services to the Qatari Emiri Naval Force (QENF).
  • On its new website, the company is called Dahra Global, but there is no mention of the connection to the QENF, nor of the seven former Navy officers who had leadership roles in the company.
  • Commander Purnendu Tiwari (retd), who was Managing Director of the company, received the Pravasi Bharativa Samman in 2019 for his services in furthering the bilateral relationship between India and Qatar. He was feted in Doha by then Indian Ambassador P Kumaran, and a former head of the Qatar defence forces’ International Military Cooperation.
  • Most of the arrested men had been working at Dahra for four to six years at the time of their arrests.

When were the men arrested by the Qatari authorities, and why?

  • The men were picked up by the State Security Bureau, the Qatari intelligence agency. The Indian Embassy first learnt about the arrests in mid-September last year.
  • On September 30, the men were allowed “brief telephonic contact” with their family members. The first consular access — a visit by an official of the Indian embassy — was granted on October 3, more than a month after they were taken into custody.
  • For the next few months at least, they were allowed weekly phone calls to their family members.
  • The charges against the men were never made public, but the fact they were put in solitary confinement led to speculation that they had been detained in connection with a security-related offence.

What is the nature of the relationship between India and Qatar?

  • The two countries have had friendly relations for decades. Since Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s visit to Qatar in November 2008, the first by an Indian Prime Minister, the relationship has burgeoned.
  • The Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad Al Thani, visited India in 2015, and Prime Minister Narendra Modi went to Qatar in 2016. External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar has visited the country on at least three occasions. The late Sushma Swaraj became the first Indian Foreign Minister to visit Qatar in 2018.
  • In 2021, India was among the top four export destinations for Qatar; it is also among the top three sources of Qatar’s imports. The bilateral trade is valued at $15 billion, which is mostly LNG and LPG exports from Qatar worth over $13 billion.
  • Defence co-operation has been officially described as a “pillar” of Indian-Qatar ties. The India-Qatar Defence Cooperation Agreement, signed during Prime Minister Singh’s November 2008 visit, was a significant turning point. The agreement was extended for another five years in 2018.
  • Indian Naval and Coast Guard ships regularly visit Qatar. QENF delegations participated in two maritime exercises in India in 2021. Two editions of a joint naval exercise called Zair Al Bahr have been held.

What are the challenges, if any, in the relationship?

  • The first big challenge to the relationship came in June 2022 over BJP spokesperson Nupur Sharma’s derogatory references to the Prophet on a TV show. Qatar was the first country to object, and demand a “public apology” from India soon after the controversy erupted.
  • The jailing of the eight ex-Navy personnel is the second big challenge of recent years. The development blindsided New Delhi in a country where 800,000 Indians live and work. Indians are the largest expatriate community in Qatar

Conclusion- The news of the death penalty for the Indians has come at time when the Middle East is on the boil over the Israeli bombardment of Gaza. Qatar, which is deeply sympathetic to the Palestinians, is  trying to work as a regional mediator in the crisis. India must make all diplomatic efforts towards the release of its navy personnel going forward.

Syllabus- GS-2; International Relations

Source- Indian Express

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