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Qatar sentenced eight Indian former naval officers to death on Thursday after finding them guilty of spying on the Gulf state’s submarine programme for Israel.
The Indian government “expressed deep shock” at the verdict, adding that “all legal options are being explored”.
Qatar has made no public statements about the convictions, which come as its government plays a crucial role in brokering negotiations between Israel and Hamas to secure the release of civilian hostages captured by the Palestinian militant group during its October 7 assault on the Jewish state.
A person briefed on the case confirmed to the Financial Times that the eight Indians had been charged with spying for Israel. They will be able to appeal against their sentences.
The last execution in Qatar was in 2020, according to the World Coalition Against The Death Penalty.
The Indian government statement said the Indians had been detained in Qatar in August last year.
Israel did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Qatar does not have formal relations with Israel, but has been facilitating negotiations between the country and Hamas to release civilians among the more than 200 people the militant group captured during its October 7 attack.
So far, four hostages have been released. Doha, the Qatari capital, which hosts Hamas’s political office, is now working on securing a deal to free all civilian hostages. But Hamas, which controls Gaza, wants Israel to agree to a pause in bombing to allow fuel and other aid into the besieged strip, according to a person briefed on the negotiations.
Hamas’s attack, in which more than 1,400 people were killed, according to Israeli officials, triggered a war between Israel and the Islamist group. Israel has responded by launching an offensive against Hamas which has killed more than 7,000 people in Gaza, according to Palestinian health officials.
The convictions risk sparking a diplomatic dispute between New Delhi and Doha, which have a strong trade relationship.
India’s external affairs ministry said it attached “high importance to this case and has been following it closely”.
“The ministry will continue to extend all consular and legal assistance and will also take up the verdict with Qatari authorities,” it said in a statement.
Qatar is one of the world’s largest exporters of liquefied natural gas, and India has been in talks to secure a new long-term LNG contract with Doha. India was the world’s fourth-largest LNG importer in 2021, with more than 40 per cent of stocks shipped from Qatar, according to the US Energy Information Administration.
A Qatari trade official was quoted in the local press as saying in July that India was the gas-rich Gulf state’s second-largest trade partner. The official added that trade volume between the two countries had increased by about a third in 2021 and 2022 to reach $17.2bn.
Qatar is home to hundreds of thousands of Indian workers, who account for a large part of the migrant labour force.
Doha has also been keen to boost tourism with India, including by playing host to Indian weddings.