New Delhi: Qatar has released eight Indian ex-navy officers who were working for a private company and were sentenced to death by a Qatari court in October 2023. Seven of them have returned to India, while one is expected to join them soon. The release came after Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi met with Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani on the sidelines of the COP 28 summit in Dubai on December 1, 2023. The two leaders discussed bilateral relations and regional issues, and the Emir of Qatar assured PM Modi of his personal intervention in the case of the Indian citizens.

The Indian government welcomed the release and expressed its appreciation for the decision of the Emir of Qatar. In a press release, the Ministry of External Affairs said, “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 Amir of the State of Qatar to enable the release and home-coming of these nationals.”

The eight Indian citizens were arrested in Qatar in September 2022 on charges of espionage and sabotage. They were working for the Dahra Global company, which provides security and maintenance services to Qatar’s Ministry of Defence. They were accused of leaking sensitive information and causing damage to Qatar’s defence installations.

On October 26, 2023, a Qatari court sentenced them to death after a trial that was criticized by human rights groups and the Indian government for lack of transparency and due process. The Indian government had lodged a strong protest and sought consular access to the detainees. The Indian ambassador to Qatar, Vipul, was able to meet them on December 3, 2023, after the intervention of the Emir of Qatar.

The case was taken up by the Court of Appeal in Qatar, which heard the arguments of the defence lawyers and the prosecution on November 20 and 23, 2023. On December 28, 2023, the Court of Appeal overturned the death sentence and ordered the release of the eight Indian citizens.

The release of the Indian citizens is a major diplomatic success for India and demonstrates the strong ties between the two countries. Qatar is an important partner for India in the Gulf region, with bilateral trade exceeding $10 billion and more than 700,000 Indians living and working in Qatar. The two countries have also cooperated on energy, security, and counter-terrorism issues.