Wednesday, February 21

Modi Hailed as Qatar Releases Eight Indians on Death Row

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(Bloomberg) — Qatar released eight former Indian navy officials who were facing death sentences for alleged spying, a diplomatic coup for Prime Minister Narendra Modi just months before an election.

Seven of the eight men have returned to India, the nation’s Ministry of External Affairs said in a statement Monday. Some of the men interviewed on TV arriving in Delhi said their freedom was only possible because of Modi’s personal intervention. 

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A Qatari court sentenced the men to death in October in a case that shocked India’s government. Qatar’s government didn’t disclose the charges the men faced, but Indian officials familiar with the case had said they were accused of espionage.

India’s Ministry of External Affairs said it appreciated the decision of the Emir of Qatar to “enable the release and homecoming of these nationals.” Modi met Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamid Al Thani on the sidelines of the COP28 meeting in Dubai in December, after which the sentences of the eight Indian navy officials were reduced. 

The release of the men, who had been employees of a company called Dahra Global, boosts Modi’s public image in the run up to an election that’s widely expected to bring him back to power. It also helps to counter some of the negative publicity India has faced since allegations emerged from Canada and the US of India’s involvement in covert operations abroad.  

India and Qatar have strong economic ties, with the Gulf nation the largest supplier of liquefied natural gas to India, accounting for more than 50% of its LNG imports. 

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The release of the veterans came days after India and Qatar extended a long-term LNG supply contract for 20 years to 2048. The deal was sealed in the presence of Qatar Energy Minister Saad Sherida Al-Kaabi, who said Qatar wants to be a part of India’s economic growth. The Gulf nation is also talking to other companies in India for more LNG supply deals, he said. 

The Qatar news also came a day before Modi arrives in the region, heading to the United Arab Emirates for a two-day official visit. He’s expected to meet with government leaders there and inaugurate the first Hindu temple in Abu Dhabi.

(Updates with additional details throughout)

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