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India pursuing legal, diplomatic routes to free Navy veterans facing death in Qatar

India pursuing legal, diplomatic routes to free Navy veterans facing death in Qatar
India pursuing legal, diplomatic routes to free Navy veterans facing death in Qatar 13

The case is shrouded in mystery as there is a lack of transparency surrounding the arrests, charges and the trial. Charges have not been made public and have not been shared with India

India has swung into action to secure the release of the eight Indian Navy veterans whose life is at stake in Qatar after they were handed the death sentence by the Qatari Court of First Instance on “espionage” charges. With Prime Minister Narendra Modi closely monitoring the development, External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar has discussed all possible legal and diplomatic options with several experts to overcome the “hurdles” in the case. While legal opinion has been sought from the experts of international law and Qatari laws to challenge the verdict in Doha, officials at the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) are sifting through the pages of various documents and books containing various legal matters, sources told The Sunday Guardian.

“The government is dealing with this issue with a two-pronged strategy. One, it is exploring options to navigate and overcome legal complexities. Two, the government is also trying all sorts of diplomatic routes to ensure that the Qatar government shows leniency in this matter,” a diplomatic source told The Sunday Guardian, adding, “while India is in direct touch with Qatar at various levels on this issue given the strong economic ties between the two countries, New Delhi will also reach out to all the countries which are friendly with Doha.” On Friday, S. Jaishankar’s telephonic conversation with Oman foreign minister Badr Albusaidi was considered to be a significant move in this direction. However, it is yet to be confirmed whether the Qatar verdict figured during the conversation. Some officials aware of the development however say that this telephonic talk may be part of Jaishankar’s strategy to rope in countries of the Gulf region with the Qatar verdict issue in mind. Both Oman and Qatar are part of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). Oman is one of India’s closest strategic Arab partners in the Gulf, and New Delhi will not hesitate to take help from it in such a challenging time. Over the past few days, Jaishankar has been in touch with his counterparts from Saudi Arabia and UAE also. After the talk with Oman FM, Jaishankar said that bilateral ties and the West Asia situation were discussed. A significant fact that the officials here recall to highlight Muscat’s influence on Doha is that Oman once became the main transit gateway to Qatar after several Persian Gulf countries cut sea routes to Qatar a few years ago during a diplomatic crisis in the Gulf. Following the onset of the crisis, most Qatari-destined goods flowed through Oman’s Port of Salalah and Sohar Port. Similarly, when Qatar Airways was banned from Saudi airspace, Oman stepped in and transported Saudi-based Qataris back to Doha. Oman always remained uninvolved in the dispute. “India cannot forget these facts while reaching out to Oman in its diplomatic mission to seek release of ex-Navy officers from Qatar. In fact, Qatari law allows the Emir to pardon convicts typically on Qatar’s National Day, which is on 18 December. Family members of the Navy veterans have filed a mercy petition with Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani seeking pardon. Jaishankar and his team of diplomats have already given momentum to backchannel diplomacy.”

Officials say since the Qatari court has only read out a two-line order, the full judgement will be available on Sunday, it can be appealed against in the Court of Appeal within 15 days. If there is still no relief, an appeal will be submitted in the highest court of Qatar, the Court of Cassation. While legal battles will be fought with all force at India’s command, all diplomatic options will also be used to seek resolution of this matter. A few months ago, Jaishankar had himself remarked, “The government has never ruled out diplomacy in case of Indian national and former Navy officer Kulbhushan Jadhav and also in the case of the eight ex-Indian Navy officers facing trial in Qatar.” “It is in the DNA of this government to help Indians facing difficulties abroad, whether they are officials or Indians held captive in exceptional situations,” he had said. Jaishankar had then said that there was no clarity on charges against Indians in the Qatar case.

As part of the strategy to tackle the case diplomatically, India would also reach out to the global community through backchannels, seeking the countries’ attention to several flaws in the case which the Qatar court ignored, sources said. “The case is shrouded in mystery as there is a lack of transparency surrounding the arrests, charges and the trial. All this raises questions about the circumstances leading to this situation,” a source said. “Charges have not been made public and have not been shared with us. Even if they are sharing charges it is not yet in the public domain. Only speculation is there that the case has something to do with a naval or submarine project. That the information was leaked to Israelis is the charge which is speculative in nature,” an official said. A source said, “It is not certain whether there was such a project at all.” “Moreover, the veterans of the Navy were arrested in July last year, but over a year since the arrest there is no clarity on what provoked the action by the Qatar government. They were kept in solitary confinement. Lawyers were not communicative as well. We were not given consular access for a long time. It all suggests that it was all terribly high handed,” sources said, adding that these points will be raised by India while challenging the death sentence. The global community should also take note of these arguments. “Our top priority is an appeal against the verdict and use of diplomatic channels to help the ex-Navy officers in Qatar,” a source said.

The eight men, who were involved in training the Qatari navy, were sentenced to death by the Gulf country’s Court of First Instance for alleged espionage. The Ministry of External Affairs in a statement on Thursday said it was “deeply shocked by the verdict” and would take up the sentencing with Qatar authorities. Qatar’s government hasn’t made public any details about the case.

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