Eight Indian navy veterans who had been in Qatari custody since August 30, 2022 were released on Sunday in Doha. Indian officials escorted seven of the eight former death row prisoners to New Delhi by a passenger flight during the early hours of Monday. The development was followed by the announcement that Prime Minister Narendra Modi will visit Qatar on Tuesday afternoon on his way back home from the United Arab Emirates where he will pay a two-day visit during February 13-14.
“We are happy to have seven of those Indian nationals back. The eighth Indian has also been released and we continue to work with the Qatar government to see how quickly his return to India would be possible,” said Foreign Secretary Vinay Mohan Kwatra.
The details of the case in which the men were arrested were not shared with the media by either side while the Indian officials maintained that the case was “sensitive”. The men were given the death penalty by a lower court in Qatar on October 26, 2023 that had shocked India. Subsequently, a court of appeals in Doha struck down the death penalty on December 28.
The case of the eight Indian navy veterans kept India-Qatar relation on tenterhooks as the matter became an issue of diplomatic tug of war since they were arrested in August 2022 and the cause of the arrest was never publicised. The men had earlier appealed against the death sentence of a lower court in Doha that was subsequently commuted to a sentence of varying periods for the eight individuals. Appreciating the decision of the Qatari legal authorities to release the Indians, Mr. Kwatra said, Prime Minister Narendra Modi “personally supervised all developments”.
Earlier, there were expectations that Qatar would set the eight men free ahead of Ramzan or Id. However, the announcement has come a day prior to Mr. Modi’s two-day visit to the United Arab Emirates during February 13-14. While the visit to the UAE was announced earlier, the announcement of Mr. Modi’s visit to Qatar was made by Mr. Kwatra at a special media interaction held here.
Major energy supplier
Qatar is a major supplier of energy to India and at least eight lakh Indian workers are employed in the Gulf country which continues to be a major source of foreign remittances to the Indian economy. Despite the case involving the eight Indian navy veterans, economic ties have remained on track and recently the two sides signed a $78 billion LNG deal that extended an existing agreement on supply of liquified natural gas (LNG) till 2048.
“The bilateral relationship between India and Qatar that has been steadily growing includes a comprehensive span, including political ties, trade and investment linkages, our strong energy partnership and ties in the field of culture, education and security,” Mr. Kwatra added.
Mr. Modi will participate in a religious ritual at the BAPS Hindu temple in Abu Dhabi during the visit to the UAE and also hold official dialogue with the leadership of the UAE.
The Hindu had published earlier that both the United Arab Emirates and Qatar hold around 3,000 Indian prisoners in their prisons and the prisons in the Gulf region hold more than half of the total Indian prisoners in foreign jails spread across 89 countries. Though Qatar has released eight Indian prisoners, it continues to hold at least 752 Indians and the United Arab Emirates holds around 2,200 Indian in its jails. The last time a major Gulf nation had released Indian prisoners was in 2019 when Prince Bin Salman of Saudi Arabia had announced the release of 850 Indian prisoners from Saudi jails during a visit to India. In response to a question from The Hindu, Mr. Kwatra said the Government of India has “extensive mechanisms” in place to ensure that the Indian prisoners in the Gulf and elsewhere will receive consular assistance.