Qatar has released eight Indian ex-naval officers after dropping their death sentences, India’s foreign ministry said on Monday, crediting the Qatari emir for the decision more than 18 months after their arrest challenged diplomatic ties.
The men were charged with spying for Israel, according to sources, though India and Qatar did not confirm the charges. Their death sentence, handed down in October, was dropped in December.
India said seven of these officers have returned back to the country and some of the men told media on arrival in New Delhi that it was Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s “personal intervention” that helped free them.
New Delhi engaged in talks for months with Qatar after the men were arrested in August 2022 and the case challenged ties with Doha, a crucial natural gas supplier to India, one of the world’s top energy importers.
“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 men were working on a submarine project with a private company for the Qatari authorities at the time of their arrest.
The announcement came days after Qatari and Indian firms signed their biggest single deal for supplies of liquefied natural gas and after Modi met Qatar’s emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani on the sidelines of the COP28 climate summit in Dubai in December and discussed the “well-being of the Indian community in Qatar”.
Some of the men told news agency ANI after their arrival at New Delhi airport that they credited Modi for the decision. “It wouldn’t have been possible without his personal intervention and his equation with Qatar,” one of the men told ANI, which did not name any of the men.
More than 800,000 Indian citizens live and work in Qatar.