Seven out of eight Indian navy veterans sentenced to death in Qatar on unspecified charges returned home to India early Tuesday morning after being abruptly freed from prison the day before. Their release marks the end of a lengthy diplomatic saga between the two allied countries.

The former naval officers landed in Delhi on an IndiGo flight at 2am local time. They were released and sent home with little advance warning, only being told Monday morning to pack up their belongings and wait to be picked up from the prison.

Veterans Thank Indian Government for Securing Release

Upon arrival back in India, the veterans thanked the Indian government, especially Prime Minister Narendra Modi, for securing their release through diplomatic channels.

“We are very happy that we are back in India, safely. Definitely, we would like to thank PM Modi as this was only possible because of his personal intervention,” one veteran told reporters.

Another said, “We waited for 18 months to be back in India. We are extremely grateful to the Prime Minister. It wouldn’t have been possible without his personal intervention and his equation with Qatar. We are grateful to the Government of India from the bottom of our hearts for every effort that has been made.”

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Death Sentences Commuted After Months of Diplomacy

The eight men were working in Qatar as contractors for a private company called Dahra Global when they were arrested sometime in 2021. They were sentenced to death by a Qatari court in October 2022.

The charges were never made public, but some reports indicate they were accused of spying on behalf of Israel. The death sentences shocked the Indian government, which immediately began filing appeals.

It took months of quiet diplomacy, spearheaded by Indian National Security Advisor Ajit Doval, before Qatar agreed to commute the death sentences in late December. Doval made multiple unpublicized trips to Doha for negotiations at Modi’s direction.

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Bilateral Ties Strengthened Through Case Resolution

While the case briefly strained ties between India and Qatar, diplomatic experts say its resolution ultimately strengthened the relationship between the two nations.

India’s External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar led the public-facing diplomatic efforts, but Modi’s personal rapport with Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad Al Thani was crucial. The two leaders met in November 2022 and discussed the situation.

With over $75 billion in new energy deals and a growing Indian expatriate population in Qatar, both countries share strong incentives to maintain positive relations. Resolving the case of the veterans displays their commitment to a constructive partnership.

One Veteran Still Awaiting Return to India

Seven of the eight sentenced veterans have now returned to India after their surprise release from Qatari prison. The eighth veteran is reportedly still finalizing paperwork in Doha before he can leave the country.

Indian authorities say they expect him to return very soon, completing the transfer home of all eight former navy officers.

After well over a year behind bars, the men expressed joy and relief to be back on Indian soil and reunited with their families. The outcome represents a major success for Indian diplomacy.

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