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Qatar’s ‘spy charge’ on 8 Indians on death row may have an ISI imprint

NewsQatar’s ‘spy charge’ on 8 Indians on death row may have an ISI imprint

A cloud of confidentiality around prosecution and a possible ISI connection appears to be the main challenge being faced by the Indian government in moving ahead with contesting the death penalty awarded to eight Indian Navy veterans by the Court of First Instance of Qatar after an eight-month trial.
Qatari officials claim they have electronic evidence to substantiate charges that the 8 Indians were spying for Israel on a top-secret project on midget submarines with stealth characteristics. The allegations have been denied by the veterans who hinted that their colleagues from Qatar and Oman, who were also detained in the same matter, have been given a clean chit while they have been victimised on the basis of fabricated charges.
From military trainers in Qatar to suspected spies, the fate of the eight Indians has taken a dramatic turn since their detention by the authorities in the Gulf nation in August 2022. Now, relatives of the eight Indians and former diplomats have called upon the Indian government to use its growing global stature to safely bring back the decorated naval veterans. Officials of the Ministry of External Affairs said the Indian embassy in the Gulf nation is in touch with the eight accused to offer legal assistance.
Sources said the whole controversy revolves around the Indian Navy veterans working on the induction of Italian-technology-based stealth submarine U212 into the Qatari armed forces. They took up the project on behalf of a private firm Al Dahra Technologies and Consultancy Services. The now-shut company was started in 2015 and had 120 employees, with 90% of them being Indian naval veterans aged between 45 and 64.
Former Indian diplomat Prabhu Dayal said he was deeply shocked to hear the news of death sentence handed to the naval veterans. “India must take up the whole issue with the government of Qatar and get them to put a break on the sentence and get them released.”
“I am sure the charges against these people are fabricated. These are highly decorated officers of the Indian Navy and some of them have commanded major Indian warships. So, we must do everything possible to stop Qatar from what it is doing,” said Ambassador Dayal.
On the speculation of a possible intelligence operation by Pakistan’s ISI being behind the controversy, he said, “I won’t be surprised because Pakistan has a very close relationship with Qatar. The ISI and the Qatari intelligence authority work together. And in the context of the Taliban, Pakistan was working very, very closely with Qatar.”
The fact that the charges are not really known and that these people were held in solitary confinement in Doha for a long time and denied bail seven times clouds the whole issue in a whole lot of suspicion. A journalist covering the case was also asked to leave by the Qatari government, said a former diplomat.
The eight Indians were detained in August 2022 and their trial began in March 2023. The prosecuted former Indian navy veterans include Commander Purnendu Tiwari who served as Al Dahra’s managing director when the controversy broke out. Others who were sentenced by the Qatari court are Cdr Amit Nagpal, Cdr Sugunakar Pakala, Capt Navtej Singh Gill, Capt Birendra Kumar Verma, Capt Saurabh Vasisht, Cdr Sanjeev Gupta and Sailor Ragesh.
Khamis al-Ajmi, the CEO of the defence services company in which the eight Indians worked was a former Omani airforce pilot. Charges were also framed against the CEO but he was released in November 2022 before the FIFA World Cup. Charges against at least two Qatari employees of Al Dahra were also framed but they were also released later. Al Dahra company has now been forced shut.  
The Indian foreign ministry has assured help for the eight Indians. “We are in touch with the family members and the legal team, and we are exploring all legal options,” said in a statement.
“We attach high importance to this case, and have been following it closely. We will continue to extend all consular and legal assistance. We will also take up the verdict with Qatari authorities,” the ministry statement said.
Earlier, while the trial against the Indians was going on, the sister of one of the prosecuted former Naval officers had appealed, on social media, to Prime Minister Narendra Modi to help bring them back safely. Since September 30 last year, the jailed Indians were allowed to contact their family members over phone.
Meetu Bhargava, sister of retired commander Tiwari, told a news agency that she had written on X and requested the PM to help bring him back. There are indications that the death penalty may be challenged in a higher court. In Qatar, the Criminal Court comprises the lower criminal, including the one that handed the death penalty to the 8 Indians, and the Higher Criminal Court. The Higher Criminal Court decides appeals filed on sentences issued by the lower criminal court.
The Court of First Instance, similar to the one that has punished the Indians, consists of a president and an adequate number of chairs and judges. It has circuits to consider cases of Hudood (limits), Qisas (retaliation in kind), Diya (compensation), criminal matters, civil and commercial matters, personal status matters, inheritance and administrative disputes.

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