New Delhi: India’s envoy to Qatar met eight ex-Navy personnel—sentenced to death in October for reasons still not known—on Sunday, the government said this afternoon. External Affairs spokesperson Arindam Bagchi said, “Our Ambassador got consular access to meet all eight in prison on December 3.”
On India’s appeal against the death sentence, Mr Bagchi said, “There have been two hearings so far (these were held on November 23 and November 30). We are closely following the matter and extending all legal and consular assistance. This is a sensitive issue, but we will do whatever we can.”
The next hearing is expected soon
The Ambassador’s meeting with the sailors has been seen as a positive step – one that addresses concerns over consular access to the eight naval personnel, which seems now to have improved.
Also seen as a positive step is that there have been two hearings since India filed its appeal.
News of the meeting with the eight sailors – arrested in August last year by that country’s intelligence agency, allegedly for spying – is being linked to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s meeting with the Qatar ruler, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani, on the side-lines of CoP28 summit in Dubai.
“You would have seen (that) Prime Minister Modi meet Sheikh Tamim nin Hamad, the Emir of Qatar in Dubai on the side-lines of (the) CoP28 (summit). They had a good conversation on the overall bilateral relationship as well as the well-being of the Indian community…” Mr Bagchi said.
The specifics of the PM’s brief meeting with the Emir have not been made public, but it does appear the Prime Minister has now taken up this matter with the Qatari ruler directly.
On November 24 a Qatari court had accepted India’s formal appeal against the death sentence, which the government said had left it “deeply shocked”.
The arrested naval personnel are Commander Purnendu Tiwari, Commander Sugunakar Pakala, Commander Amit Nagpal, Commander Sanjeev Gupta, Captain Navtej Singh Gill, Captain Birendra Kumar Verma, Captain Saurabh Vasisht and Sailor Ragesh Gopakumar.
The eight ex-Navy officers include decorated individuals who once commanded major Indian warships, and were working for a private firm providing training and related services to Qatar’s armed forces.
Families of the eight spoke and flatly denied the spying allegations.
They were “not engaged in espionage for Israel”, the families said. “They went to build the Qatari Navy and build that nation’s security. They could never spy. There are no proof of allegations…”