New Delhi: Setting foot to their homeland after several agonising months of captivity in Qatar, seven of the eight Indian navy veterans who were sentenced to death on 'espionage' charges, heaped praise on Prime Minister Narendra Modi, saying they wouldn't have been freed had it for the sustained diplomatic efforts at his behest to secure their release.
Their death sentence was later commuted to an extended prison term following sustained diplomatic interventions and legal assistance from New Delhi. Relieved to finally walk free, the seven former Navy officers raised chants of 'Bharat Mata ki Jai' after arriving at the Delhi airport in the early hours of Monday.
Speaking to ANI, one of the Navy veterans lauded PM Modi for raising their sentencing with Qatar's Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani and attributed their release to relentless diplomatic efforts at his behest. "I feel relieved and delighted to finally be back home safe and sound. I wish to thank Prime Minister Modi as this wouldn't have been possible had it not been for his personal intervention to secure our release. I also wish to express my gratitude to Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, the Emir of the State of Qatar," he said.
Wearing a relieving smile and a calm demeanour, another released former naval officer told ANI, "Without the intervention of PM Modi, we would not have walked free. We wouldn't be standing before you today had it not been for his untiring efforts and interventions at the highest levels to get us freedom."
Another freed navy veteran also came out in praise of the Centre's intervention in securing their release, saying, "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. He took up our case with the highest levels of the Qatari government and eventually secured our release. I don't have enough words to express my gratitude to him and the Emir of Qatar."
"We are very happy to be back and it wouldn't have been possible had the honourable Prime Minister not taken personal interest in the matter. I also thank the Qatar Emir for his personal involvement in the matter," another former Navy officer told ANI.
"We waited almost 18 months to be back home to our loved ones in India. We are extremely grateful to PM Modi for getting us back. We wouldn't have seen this day without the joint efforts of PM Modi and the Emir of Qatar. The personal equations that the two leaders share also helped in our release," another Navy veteran told ANI after landing in Delhi.
Earlier, on Monday, Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) shared about the release of eight veterans of the Indian Navy who were sentenced to death in Qatar. Amid desperate pleas by the anxious kin of the Navy veterans to secure their release and safe passage back to their homeland, the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) had assured that it would mobilise all diplomatic channels and arrange legal assistance to bring them back.
Of the eight former Navy officers, seven have already returned to India, the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) informed through an official statement on Monday. The Union government released an official statement welcoming the decision to set the veteran officers free, saying, "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 nationals were imprisoned in Qatar since October 2022 and were accused of allegedly spying on a submarine programme. The retired naval personnel were sentenced to death by a Qatar court on charges that have not yet been made public officially. Earlier, the Qatari Court commuted the death penalty sentence of eight ex-Indian naval officers it had arrested last year in the Dahra Global case, the Ministry of External Affairs said in a press statement.
The sentence has now been reduced to jail terms. Describing the judgement, the Ministry of External Affairs had said, "We have noted the verdict today of the Court of Appeal of Qatar in the Dahra Global case, in which the sentences have been reduced." The MEA also said that the detailed judgement in the case is awaited and are in close touch with the legal team in Qatar.
MEA added, "The detailed judgement is awaited. We are in close touch with the legal team as well as the family members to decide on the next steps. Our Ambassador to Qatar and other officials were present in the Court of Appeal today, along with the family members. We have stood by them since the beginning of the matter and we will continue to extend all consular and legal assistance. We will also continue to take up the matter with the Qatari authorities."
Prime Minister Narendra Modi met Qatar's Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani on the sidelines of the COP28 summit in Dubai and discussed bilateral partnership and the "well-being of the Indian community" living in Qatar.
Earlier, the newly appointed spokesperson for the Ministry of External Affairs, Jaiswal, emphasised the temporal significance of this period, stating, "As far as the issue is concerned, there is a time of 60 days when this issue can be appealed in the Court of Cassation, which is the highest court in Qatar."
The MEA's legal team possesses the confidential court order detailing the commutation of the death sentences to imprisonment terms, a move revealed in a press release following the court of appeal's judgement on December 28.
"We issued a press release in which we informed you that the death sentence, which was originally a death penalty, has been changed to imprisonment sentences. Now our legal team has that court order, and I can confirm that all of them have received sentences of different durations, and the death penalty has been abolished," Jaiswal said.
Moreover, the Court of First Instance of Qatar had also passed the judgement against them, according to a statement by the Ministry of External Affairs. The MEA spokesperson also highlighted the recent meeting that took place between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad and said that they have had a good conversation on the overall bilateral relationship.