In a huge diplomatic win for India, Qatar has released eight Indian ex-naval officers who were imprisoned for spying charges. Though they were sentenced to death, the sentences were commuted in December following India's intervention.
A statement by the Ministry of External Affairs read: "The Government of India welcomes the release of eight Indian nationals working for the Dahra Global company who were detained in Qatar. Seven out of the eight of them have returned to India. We appreciate the decision by the Emir of the State of Qatar to enable the release and home-coming of these nationals."
The eight Indian nationals have been identified as 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. They were working on a submarine project with a private company for the Qatari authorities and were arrested in 2022.
Neither the Qatar nor the Indian authorities made public the charges faced by the Indians.
On October 26, 2023, all eight of them were sentenced to death. India said it was "deeply shocked" by the verdict and was exploring all legal options. Their sentences were commuted two months later due to India's intervention. The MEA statement then read that the country "will continue to extend all consular and legal assistance."
In December, Prime Minister Narendra Modi raised the case with Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad as the two leaders met in Dubai on the sidelines of the CoP28 summit, the government said on Thursday.
Meanwhile, footage from Delhi International Airport showed the elated Naval officials returning home. All seven of them praised the Indian government and Prime Minister Narendra Modi for the efforts to free them and chanted 'Bharat Mata ki jai' on their arrival home.
"I feel relieved and delighted to finally be back home safe and sound. I wish to thank Prime Minister Modi as this wouldn't have been possible had it not been for his personal intervention to secure our release. I also wish to express my gratitude to Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, the Emir of the State of Qatar," one of the Navy veterans told ANI.
Another released former naval officer hailed the diplomatic efforts of the India Government. "Without the intervention of PM Modi, we would not have walked free. We wouldn't be standing before you today had it not been for his untiring efforts and interventions at the highest levels to get us freedom," he said.
Another freed navy veteran too shared his joy. "We, as well as our anxious family members back home, had been waiting for this day for a long time. It all worked out because of PM Modi and his personal intervention in the matter. He took up our case with the highest levels of the Qatari government and eventually secured our release. I don't have enough words to express my gratitude to him and the Emir of Qatar."
"We waited almost 18 months to be back home to our loved ones in India. We are extremely grateful to PM Modi for getting us back. We wouldn't have seen this day without the joint efforts of PM Modi and the Emir of Qatar. The personal equations that the two leaders share also helped in our release," another Navy veteran told ANI after landing in Delhi.