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.

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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 intervention.

Modi “personally supervised this case,” India’s Foreign Secretary Vinay Kwatra told reporters Monday in New Delhi, when asked about the Prime Minister’s role in securing the release of the veterans. He also announced Modi would be traveling to Qatar on Wednesday after an official trip to the United Arab Emirates, and will meet with the Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani.

The visit was being planned for sometime, Kwatra said when asked whether Modi’s visit was linked to the release of the veterans whose incarceration had taken the government by surprise and raised concerns in the South Asian country.

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 foreign ministry said it appreciated the decision of the Emir of Qatar to “enable the release and homecoming of these nationals.” Modi met the Emir 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.

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.

(Updates with comments from India’s Ministry of External Affairs)

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