Qatar frees 8 ex-Indian Navy men jailed on espionage charges


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Defence co-operation has been officially described as a “pillar” of Indian-Qatar ties.

What’s in today’s article?

  •  Why in news?
  • India – Qatar Bilateral Relation
  • Challenges in India – Qatar Bilateral Relation
  • Background of the present case
  • News Summary: Qatar frees 8 ex-Indian Navy men jailed on espionage charges
  • Why it matters?

Why in news?

  • Qatar has released eight veterans of the Indian Navy who were sentenced to death on espionage charges.
  • Seven of the eight former Indian Navy personnel have now returned to India.

India – Qatar Bilateral Relation

  • High-level visits
    • The two countries have had friendly relations for decades.
    • Since PM Manmohan Singh’s visit to Qatar in November 2008, the first by an Indian Prime Minister, the relationship has burgeoned.
    • The Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad Al Thani, visited India in 2015, and PM Modi went to Qatar in 2016.
    • The late Sushma Swaraj became the first Indian Foreign Minister to visit Qatar in 2018.
  • Bilateral trade
    • In 2021, India was among the top four export destinations for Qatar; it is also among the top three sources of Qatar’s imports.
    • India’s total imports from Qatar in FY2022-23 were valued at $16.81 billion, of which LNG imports alone were worth $8.32 billion, or 49.5%.
      • Qatar is India’s largest source of liquefied natural gas (LNG).
    • India’s exports to Qatar were valued at just $1.97 billion in FY2022-23.
      • The major exports include cereals, copper articles, iron and steel articles, vegetables, fruits, spices, and processed food products.
  • LNG Supply Agreement
    • In January 2024, India and Qatar agreed to prolong their LNG supply agreement, extending it until 2048.
      • India's Petronet has secured a monumental deal to continue purchasing 7.5 million tonnes of LNG annually from Qatar starting in 2029.
    • This agreement, hailed as the world's largest extension for liquefied natural gas, builds on an original 25-year contract initiated in 1999, with deliveries commencing in 2004.
  • Defence co-operation
    • Defence co-operation has been officially described as a pillar of Indian-Qatar ties.
    • The India-Qatar Defence Cooperation Agreement, signed during PM Singh’s November 2008 visit, was a significant turning point.The agreement was extended for another five years in 2018.
      • Experts at that time described the agreement as just short of stationing troops.
    • Indian Naval and Coast Guard ships regularly visit Qatar. QENF delegations participated in two maritime exercises in India in 2021.
    • Two editions of a joint naval exercise called Zair Al Bahr have been held.
  • Indian migrants in Qatar
    • Qatar has around 8 lakh Indian migrants, who send remittances back home.
    • In FY 2021-22, it sent the eighth-highest amount of remittances among all countries.

Challenges in India – Qatar Bilateral Relation

  • BJP spokesperson’s derogatory references to the Prophet on a TV show
    • In June 2022, BJP spokesperson Nupur Sharma’s made derogatory references to the Prophet on a TV show.
    • Qatar was the first country to object, and demand a “public apology” from India soon after the controversy erupted.
  • The boil over the Israeli bombardment of Gaza
    • The news of the death penalty for the Indians has come at a time when the Middle East is on the boil over the Israeli bombardment of Gaza.
    • Qatar, which is deeply sympathetic to the Palestinians, has mediated the release of two American hostages from Hamas captivity in Gaza, and the country’s diplomats are said to be working as a regional mediator in the crisis.

Background of the present case

  • Arrest of eight navy personnel
    • On August 30, 2022, eight former Indian Navy personnel, along with two others, were arrested on undeclared charges.
      • They were put in solitary confinement.
    • These personnel were working at Al Dahra Global Technologies and Consultancy Services, a defence services provider company.
      • As per different sources, the Indians had been working in their private capacity with the company to oversee the induction of Italian small stealth submarines U2I2.
      • The company’s old website, which no longer exists, said it provided training, logistics and maintenance services to the Qatari Emiri Naval Force (QENF).
  • Charges against the men
    • The officers were jailed on charges that have not been made public.
    • However, as per the media reports, the eight Indians had been charged with spying for Israel.
  • Navy veterans were awarded death penalty
    • In March 2023, the last of multiple bail pleas filed for the veterans was rejected.
    • The trial began later that month and on October 26, 2023, the death sentence was handed to all eight men.
  • Appeal filed by India
    • In November 2023, the MEA announced it had filed an appeal and that its legal team had details of the charges.
  • Death sentence commuted
    • In December 2023, the Court of Appeal of Qatar commuted the death sentence of eight former Indian Navy personnel.

News Summary: Qatar frees 8 ex-Indian Navy men jailed on espionage charges

  • This development follows intense diplomatic efforts nearly four months after a Qatari court's death sentences were commuted to various prison terms.

Why it matters?

  • The release of the Navy veterans is a testament to the robust diplomatic channels and the goodwill shared between India and Qatar.
  • It not only reinforces the safety and security of Indian nationals abroad but also strengthens bilateral ties.
  • Millions of Indians reside and are employed across the Gulf region, serving as a significant source of remittances for India and playing a key role in the prosperity of Gulf economies.
  • This incident demonstrates India's growing influence on the global stage and its ability to protect its citizens' interests internationally.

Q1) What is Qatari Emiri Naval Force (QENF)?

The Qatari Emiri Naval Forces (QENF) is the naval branch of the Qatar Armed Forces. The QENF's headquarters are in Doha. The QENF has over 4,000 personnel, including the Coast Guard, Marine Police, and Coastal Artillery.

Q2) Who is the Emir of Qatar?

The current Emir of Qatar is Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani. He has been the Emir since 2013.

Source: Qatar frees 8 ex-Indian Navy men jailed on espionage charges, 7 return to India | BBC | Indian Express | Times of India