New Delhi | Eight former Indian Navy personnel were on Thursday handed down death sentence by a court in Qatar, a verdict that was described as "deeply" shocking by India as it vowed to explore all legal options in the case.
The Indian nationals, who worked with private security company Al Dahra, were arrested in August last year reportedly in an alleged case of espionage. However, neither the Qatari authorities nor New Delhi made the charges against the Indian nationals public.
In its reaction, the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) said it is attaching "high importance" to this case and is exploring all legal options.
The former Indian Navy personnel are Captain Saurabh Vashisht, Commander Purenendu Tiwari, Captain Birendra Kumar Verma, Commander Sugunakar Pakala, Commander Sanjeev Gupta, Commander Amit Nagpal and Sailor Ragesh, according to people familiar with the matter.
All of the former Navy officers had "unblemished stints" of up to 20 years in the Indian Navy and had held important positions including that of instructors in the force, they said.
"We have initial information that the Court of First Instance of Qatar has today passed a judgement in the case involving eight Indian employees of Al Dahra company," the MEA said.
"We are deeply shocked by the verdict of death penalty and are awaiting the detailed judgement. We are in touch with the family members and the legal team, and we are exploring all legal options," it said.
The MEA said it will continue to extend all consular and legal assistance to the Indians.
"We attach high importance to this case, and have been following it closely. We will continue to extend all consular and legal assistance. We will also take up the verdict with Qatari authorities," it said in a statement.
The MEA said it would "not be appropriate to make any further comments at this juncture" due to the "confidential nature of the proceedings".
"Due to the confidential nature of proceedings of this case, it would not be appropriate to make any further comment at this juncture," it added.
India's ambassador to Qatar met the men in prison on October 1 after being granted consular access.
They had impeccable service records and had taken voluntary retirements in search of greener pastures, one of the people cited above said.
As part of Al Dahra security company, the Indians were imparting training to Qatari naval personnel for the last few years, the people cited above said.
The Al Dahra security company had some arrangements with the Qatari authorities for facilitating training to Qatari naval personnel, they said.
The company wound up its operations after one of the arrests of the personnel.
There were reports that the top executive of Al Dahra was taken into custody but he was released a couple of months later.
It is learnt that the former Indian naval personnel were kept in solitary confinement for several months before they were transferred to "two-person" cells.
"This (the Qatari court verdict) is unbelievable. I am sure, the government will leave no stone unturned to ensure release of the veterans," said former Indian Navy spokesperson Capt (retd) D K Sharma.
In the past, the Navy had taken up the case of the former naval personnel with top brass of the government for securing their release.