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Qatar releases 8 ex-navy Indians detained on spy charges

February 12, 2024

Eighteen months after their arrest, the ex-naval officers have been freed. While the charges were not made public, the men were reported to have been detained for spying and had been sentenced to death.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi (L) shakes hands with Emir of Qatar Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani in New Delhi in a photo caputured in 2015
Indian and Qatari diplomatic ties came under strain when the eight Indian nationals were sentenced to death in October 2023Image: Harish Tyagi/EPA/dpa/picture alliance

Qatar has released eight Indian former naval officers, months after dropping their death sentences, India's Foreign Ministry said in a statement on Monday.

Arrested over 18 months ago, the men were reportedly charged with spying for Israel. Although neither  Indian nor Qatari governments confirmed these charges.

They were working for the Dahra Global company at the time of the arrest, which provided training and other services to Qatar's armed forces. The controversy ensuing the arrest of the Indian nationals led to the shutdown of the company's Doha branch in May 2023.

In October 2023, Qatar sentenced the Indian nationals to death, straining diplomatic ties between the two nations. In December however, the punishment was dropped.

"Seven out of the eight of them have returned to India," India's Foreign Ministry said in a press release on its website. "We appreciate the decision by the Amir of the State of Qatar to enable the release and home-coming of these nationals." 

Diplomatic efforts 

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi met Qatar's Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani on the sidelines of the COP28 climate summit in Dubai in December to discuss the "well-being of the Indian community in Qatar."

Some of the newly freed men who returned to India, told news agency ANI that they credited Modi for their release. "We, as well as our anxious family members back home, had been waiting for this day for a long time. It all worked out because of PM Modi and his personal intervention in the matter," ANI quoted one of the men without naming him.

Indian newspaper The Hindu reported that the men were accused of spying for a "third country," while The Times of India said "various reports claimed they were accused of spying for Israel."

Indians are among the largest group of expatriate workers in Qatar, with over 800,000 nationals currently working and living there.

mk/rc (Reuters, AFP)