In August of 2022, eight Indian ex-Navy personnel were detained by the Doha official, on the charges of espionage. Since then, they have been detained and on the 26th of October, the Qatari court gave a death penalty verdict to these ex-Navy officers after a very short trial.

The Ministry of External Affairs expressed its shock at the incident and further assured to explore all possible options in support of the officers. They also stated that this incidence is of “high importance”. “We are deeply shocked by the verdict of the death penalty and are awaiting the detailed judgement. We are in touch with the family members and the legal team, and we are exploring all legal options,” it said.

The death verdict was given at a critical time when India showed support for Israel in the war as opposed to Hamas which has closed link with Qatar.

Indian Espionage Case in Qatar – The Case Overview

Eight officers 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, whose names are currently blazing in the headlines, are experienced professionals with former careers in the Indian Navy. After retirement, they worked in Dhara Global Technologies and Consultancy in Doha Qatar, where they worked with Qatari Emiri Navy to train soldiers and establish navy bases. The Doha police last August at midnight picked these people from their homes for questioning and later booked them on the charges of espionage. The nature and the details of the charges were neither shared officially during the time of detention nor after demands to the Indian embassy. After two preliminary hearings on this case, the courts in Qatar moved to trial. After the very first trial, the court declared the accused guilty and gave the death penalty based on an alleged confession by the officials. 

The defence however pointed out with proof that the confession was collected under duress and torture, thus can’t be admissible in court. They also tried to highlight the opacity in the conduct of the case. The allegation states that the eight men shared sensitive info with Israel on the development of a near-future submarine by Qatar, with the help of an Italian arms developer company Fincantieri, but the CEO of the said company denied any involvement with Qatar or the submarines. This on top of all almost falsifies the grounds for this case.

The Ministry of External Affairs still hasn’t received any substantial details or credible pieces of evidence to support the claims, from the Qatari officials. It is constantly in touch with the families and assures them to explore every viable option to protect its citizens. The matter gained traction in social media and the hashtag #bringbackourmen gained substantial clout. 

What is the Real Reason Behind the Death Penalty of Indian Ex-Navy Officers?

Upon critical analysis, it is clear that the chances of the officers being guilty are close to none. They also have a stellar record of service and integrity. So, there is a clear indication that there is a behind-the-curtain agenda, that could ultimately serve Qatar’s interest if leveraged against India. To understand that we have to delve into the workings of the nation which is Qatar.

Being oil-rich, it is one of the richest countries in the Middle East region. It has a long history of giving shelter to the leaders of several Islamic terrorist organizations like Hamas, Hezbollah, ISIS and many others. They safely operate from Qatar providing funding and planning to further their “cause”. For this reason, several other Arabic nations have also a very fragile relationship with the country.

India however in recent years heavily cracked down on terror funding, that was channeled into its country from Islamic nations. This upset the terror organization leaders. According to experts, the Qatari government was under pressure from these leaders regarding its relations with India, but couldn’t do anything about it because of the financial and trade ties and international image.

This year on the 7th of October, Hamas terrorists entered Israel’s territory and started mass murdering and raping innocent civilians. On this India took an unwavering stand against terrorism. Hamas leadership, from the safety of their penthouse, tried to change the narrative immediately after the retaliation of IDF (Israeli Defense Forces). But that proved to be a worthless exercise, because of India and its people’s support both from the administrative level and social level.

That’s why it is possible, that this move is some kind of indirect retaliation of Qatar towards India, due to its stand on the war in the Middle East and to adversely impact incumbent government in forthcoming election. Some experts believe that it could be a leverage tactic, through which Qatar would pursue its interest while some believe it is just a pressure tactic to make India backtrack on its foreign policy.

It is also should be noted that during the time of their arrest, there were some reports that information of them conducting espionage was hinted at by Pakistani intelligence. It is believed that this was done due to the displeasure among the Pak citizens for not being able to secure employment in Gulf countries when they come to face with their Indian counterparts. As Pakistan has strong backend ties with Qatar, India’s treatment of Indifference towards it also could be a factor in this incident.

What Will India Do Next?

Given the nature of this trial, there are several avenues India could explore.

  • One of them is, that India can take a hard stand against the Qatar government and leverage its geopolitical prowess and influence to extradite the personnel to India. It could call out the mishaps and unethical treatment of this case proceedings to make a case for extradition if needed. 
  • Another one could be the use of international law. Laws like the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), and the Vienna Convention of Consular Relations (VCCR) could be used to overthrow the verdict in international courts.

According to the Ministry of External Affairs, neither the verdict copy, nor the supporting evidence has yet been submitted by the Qatar officials. It has implied that when it’s done, India will do everything in its power to bring back its citizens. This also will be a pivoting point in India’s relationship with Qatar and some other Gulf nations. The India-ME-Europe Economic Corridor and its stance on the Israel war are the only things that could be substantially leveraged against India if Qatar decided to do it in the first place. If they do the true nature of this incident will come out with it. And India’s navigation in this murky water will decide its relationship with the Gulf in years to come.