28 Dec 2023

Qatar commutes death sentence awarded to eight Indian Navy personnel to imprisonment

Qatar has commuted the death sentence awarded to eight Indian Navy personnel, accused of alleged espionage, to imprisonment, as confirmed by the Indian Ministry of External Affairs. The decision was announced by Qatar's Court of Appeal, with details of the ruling yet to be disclosed. The Indian Ambassador and a specially appointed legal council were present in the court during the hearing, along with family members of the accused sailors.

The initial death penalty was issued by the lower court, the 'Court of First Instance,' in Qatar, which was challenged by the Government of India and the sailors' families in the Court of Appeal. The higher court, on Thursday, modified the punishment from death to imprisonment. The duration of the prison term remains unknown at this point.

Qatar's Emir has the authority to pardon or mitigate sentences

The next procedural step is the Court of Concession, Qatar's highest court, akin to the Supreme Court, where the jail sentence can be contested. Additionally, Qatar's Emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, holds the authority to pardon or mitigate sentences. Notably, on Qatar's National Day (December 18), there is a tradition of pardoning the punishment of many accused.

The Indian Foreign Ministry issued a statement emphasizing their commitment to protecting citizens, ensuring consular access, and continuing discussions with the Qatar Administration on the matter. The ongoing legal proceedings will be closely monitored, with the possibility of further appeals or pardon at higher levels of the Qatari legal system. 

Prime Minister Narendra Modi had met Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani during the COP28 summit in Dubai, addressing concerns about the well-being of Indian citizens in Qatar without directly referencing the Navy personnel's case. Indian Ambassador Nipul had also met the former marines on December 3, ensuring legal and consular assistance in coordination with the Qatar's authorities.

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