New Delhi: The seven Navy veterans jailed in Qatar, who were brought back to India today, had no clue of their imminent release, sources have told NDTV. The veterans, the sources said, were asked by jailors last night to pack their things and wait at about 9 am (local time) yesterday. They were then whisked away to the Embassy and subsequently taken to the airport, sources said. They boarded an IndiGo flight that landed in Delhi at 2 am.
The seven veterans are among eight Indians sentenced to death by a Qatar court in October, allegedly for spying. The capital punishment was commuted in December following India's diplomatic intervention. The lone veteran not back yet is working through some paper work and is expected to return soon.
The veterans who returned today are Captain Navtej Singh Gill (retired), Captain Saurabh Vasisht (retired), Commander Purnendu Tiwari (retired), Captain Birendra Kumar Verma (retired), Commander Sugunakar Pakala (retired), Commander Sanjeev Gupta (retired), Commander Amit Nagpal (retired) and Sailor Ragesh (retired). The eight veterans were arrested in Qatar in 2022 and were in jail since.
While reports said they were arrested on charges of spying, neither New Delhi nor Doha has publicly remarked on the allegations against them. Before their arrest, the veterans were employed by a private firm, Dahra Global, and were involved in training the Qatar Navy.
The External Affairs Ministry statement informing of their release said Indian 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 ministry said.
The veterans' death sentence was commuted in December, shortly after Prime Minister Narendra Modi met Qatar's Amir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani on the sidelines of the COP28 summit in Dubai.
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Back home, one of the veterans thanked the Prime Minister. "We are very happy that we are back in India, safely. Definitely, we would like to thank PM Modi as this was only possible because of his personal intervention."
"We waited for 18 months to be back in India. We are extremely grateful to the Prime Minister. It wouldn't have been possible without his personal intervention and his equation with Qatar. We are grateful to the Government of India from the bottom of our hearts for every effort that has been made," said another.