Unlock the Editor’s Digest for free
Roula Khalaf, Editor of the FT, selects her favourite stories in this weekly newsletter.
Qatar has released eight Indian former naval officers sentenced to death last year for spying for Israel, India’s government said.
The government of prime minister Narendra Modi said it welcomed the release of the men, adding that seven out of the eight had now returned to India.
“We appreciate the decision by the Emir of the State of Qatar to enable the release and homecoming of these nationals,” India’s ministry of external affairs said on Monday.
The men had been working for Dahra Global, a Doha-based defence services company, and were arrested in August 2022 and kept in solitary confinement. They were sentenced to death in October last year. Their release followed months of negotiations between Indian officials and their Qatari counterparts. Qatar in December dropped the death sentences but kept the men in detention.
Neither Qatar nor India had released details of the charges of which they were convicted, but a person briefed on the case confirmed to the Financial Times in October that the eight had been charged with spying for Israel. Qatar rarely carries out the death penalty. The last execution in the Gulf state was in 2020.
“We are happy to have these seven Indian nationals back,” Vinay Kwatra, India’s foreign secretary, told a briefing in New Delhi on Monday afternoon. “An eighth Indian national has also been released and we continue to see how quickly their return to India will be possible.”
Kwatra said Modi had “personally, constantly supervised all the developments in this case and has never shied away from any initiatives that would ensure the return of the Indian nationals back home.”
The men’s release follows a major liquefied natural gas deal between Qatar, one of the world’s top LNG exporters, and India. State-owned QatarEnergy last week announced it had entered a 20-year sale and purchase agreement with Indian state-controlled firm Petronet LNG to provide 7.5mn tonnes a year of LNG to India.
After a two-day visit to the United Arab Emirates, Modi is set to hold bilateral meetings with Qatari emir Sheikh Tamir bin Hamad al-Thani in Doha on Wednesday, India said.
India has been courting closer ties with energy-rich Gulf states, and Qatar is home to an Indian diaspora community of roughly 840,000, according to India’s government, mostly foreign workers.
Qatar does not have formal relations with Israel. But it has played a leading role in brokering negotiations to secure aid for the Israeli-besieged Gaza Strip and the release of the remaining hostages abducted by the militant group Hamas on October 7, after an attack on southern Israel that killed more than 1,200 and prompted the Jewish state to declare war.
The Modi government, which has built close ties with Israel in defence and other areas, has called for an end to the war with Hamas and the creation of a sovereign Palestinian state, but has restrained its criticism of the Israeli assault on Gaza, which, according to Hamas health officials, has killed more than 28,000 people.
India is heading into a national election this year, expected to be held in stages during April and May, in which Modi and his Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata party will be seeking a third five-year term in office.