‘Cream of navy’: Decorated officers face death penalty in Qatar | Latest News India - Hindustan Times
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‘Cream of navy’: Decorated officers face death penalty in Qatar

ByRahul Singh
Oct 27, 2023 05:40 AM IST

The seven former Indian Navy officers who were handed down the death penalty by a court in Qatar were outstanding professionals who served the navy and the country well, the eight man who was awarded the death sentence was a sailor

New Delhi One of them was awarded the President’s gold medal for excellence when he graduated from the naval academy and later served as an instructor at the prestigious Defence Services Staff College (DSSC) at Wellington in Tamil Nadu. Another was a fighter controller and navigating officer on board aircraft carrier INS Viraat. A third was conferred the Pravasi Bharatiya Samman Award four years ago — the first from Indian armed forces to be awarded the highest honour for NRIs/Persons of Indian Origin.

Commander Purnendu Tiwari (retd) was conferred the Pravasi Bharatiya Samman Award by the President in January 2019 for enhancing India’s image abroad. (HT Photo)
Commander Purnendu Tiwari (retd) was conferred the Pravasi Bharatiya Samman Award by the President in January 2019 for enhancing India’s image abroad. (HT Photo)

The seven former Indian Navy officers who were handed down the death penalty by a court in Qatar were outstanding professionals who served the navy and the country well, said Captain DK Sharma, a former navy spokesperson who served with five of them. The eighth man who was awarded the death sentence was a sailor.

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“I knew the seven officers and they were brilliant at their jobs. They were the cream of the navy. One was a senior of mine, another was a course-mate and the others were my juniors. The verdict is shocking,” said Sharma, who retired in 2019.

The eight men were employees of Al Dahra Global Technologies, a private firm that provided training and other services to Qatar’s armed forces and security agencies. They were held on unspecified charges since August 2022.

They couldn’t have done anything wrong or illegal and this appears to be a travesty of justice, he said.

“I was hoping for a favourable outcome, given the strong ties India has with Qatar. All seven of them had unblemished careers and were known to be outstanding professionals. I am in utter disbelief,” Sharma said.

Navtej Gill, a retired captain, is Sharma’s course-mate. He is the son of a retired army officer and is from Chandigarh. “He was awarded the President’s gold medal for being the best cadet. He was also an instructor at DSSC. He was outstanding,” said Sharma.

The sentence was handed down by Qatar’s Court of First Instance, and no details were released officially by authorities in Doha.

“We are deeply shocked by the verdict of death penalty and are awaiting the detailed judgment. We are in touch with the family members and the legal team, and we are exploring all legal options,” the ministry of external affairs said in a statement, without giving details. People familiar with the matter said on condition of anonymity that the eight men were charged with espionage.

A navy spokesperson did not comment on the development.

Commander Purnendu Tiwari (retd) was Sharma’s senior.

“He was a navigation officer and commanded the amphibious warship INS Magar. He was among the best in the navy at the time,” Sharma said. Tiwari was conferred the Pravasi Bharatiya Samman Award-2019 by the President in January 2019 for enhancing India’s image abroad. The award was in recognition of his contribution towards capacity building for the Qatar Emiri Naval Forces.

Commanders Amit Nagpal, SK Gupta and Captain BK Verma, all retired, were Sharma’s juniors. Nagpal was a communication and electronic warfare specialist, Gupta a gunnery specialist and Verma specialised in navigation and direction. Verma and his wife are from a military background.

Two others awarded the death sentence, Captain Saurabh Vasisht (retd) and Commander Sugunakar Pakala (retd), were technical officers in the navy. Ragesh (only one name available), the eight man to get death penalty was a sailor.

The bail pleas of the men were rejected numerous times and their detention extended by Qatari authorities. For a long time, they were held in solitary confinement and not allowed to meet their families. Following the intervention of Indian authorities, officials from the Indian embassy in Qatar were given consular access to the men and meetings and phone calls were arranged with their relatives.

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