Qatar has released eight jailed former Indian Navy personnel and seven of them returned home early Monday, 46 days after their death sentences handed last October were commuted to jail terms of varying duration.
The eight apparently faced charges of espionage but neither Qatari authorities nor New Delhi made the charges against them public.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi will be travelling to Doha in Qatar on February 14 after his visit to the United Arab Emirates, Foreign Secretary Vinay Kwatra said.
India appreciates the decision by the Emir of Qatar to enable the release and homecoming of the Indians, who were arrested in August 2022, the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) said in a statement as political parties across the spectrum expressed their relief and welcomed the Navy veterans home.
"The Government of India welcomes the release of eight Indian nationals working for the Dahra Global company who were detained in Qatar," the ministry said.
"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," it said in a brief statement.
The eight nationals are: Captains (retired) Navtej Gill and Saurabh Vasisht, Commanders (retired) Purnendu Tiwari, Amit Nagpal, SK Gupta, BK Verma, and Sugunakar Pakala, and sailor Ragesh.
People familiar with the matter said Commander Tiwari stayed back in Doha and is likely to come back to India soon.
In December last year, Modi met Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani on the sidelines of the COP28 Summit in Dubai and discussed the well-being of the Indian community in Qatar.
It is learnt that National Security Adviser Ajit Doval played a role in the negotiations with the Qatari authorities in securing the release of the Indians.
"It is a big diplomatic win for India. It shows how India has negotiated so well that we have our Navy veterans back," BJP spokesperson Shazia Ilmi said.
"It seemed at one point of time it will be very difficult to make it happen. But they have come back safe and sound. That is great news for every Indian. It shows how much the words of the Indian foreign ministry and Prime Minister (Narendra Modi) matter," Ilmi said.
The homecoming of the veterans, added her party colleague and Union minister Anurag Thakur, is a moment of happiness and further strengthens belief in the seriousness and ability of the Modi government to protect its citizens at any cost.
"Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi means the guarantee of life, limb and liberty of the people of India across the globe," he said in a post on X.
The Congress said it joins the entire nation in its relief and happiness.
"It sends its greetings and good wishes to them and their families," Congress general secretary Jairam Ramesh said.
"It's a huge relief - and a matter of quiet celebration for all Indians - that eight of our compatriots who were sentenced to death in Qatar have been freed & returned home. Congratulations to all those who worked quietly behind the scenes for their release," said senior Congress leader and former minister of state for external affairs Shashi Tharoor.
Away from the politicalspeak, Dr Meetu Bhargava, Commander Tiwari’s sister, said her brother hadn’t come home yet but he had been freed and the family was very happy.
“If my brother had come, our happiness would have been complete,” she told PTI Videos in Gwalior while thanking the prime minister, External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar and the government as well as the Emir.
The Navy veterans were given death sentences by Qatar's Court of First Instance on October 26.
On December 28, the Court of Appeal in the Gulf nation commuted the capital punishment and sentenced them to jail terms for durations ranging from three years to 25 years.
The Court of Appeal had also given 60 days to appeal against the prison terms.
The charges were filed against the eight Indian navy veterans on March 25 last year and they were tried under Qatari law.
In May last year, Al-Dhara Global closed its operations in Doha. All those working there (primarily Indians) have since returned home.
India was also looking at the possibility of invoking provisions of a bilateral pact on the transfer of sentenced persons.
The pact inked between India and Qatar in 2015 provides for citizens of India and Qatar who have been convicted and sentenced for criminal offences to serve their sentences in their home country.
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