What legal options are available to eight former Indian navy officials sentenced to death in Qatar?

Experts point out the possible next steps of bilateral talks, moving the appellate court in Qatar, Emir’s pardon and approaching the International Court of Justice.

ON Thursday, eight former Navy officers were sentenced to death by the Court of First Instance in Qatar.

The ex-officers were working for Al Dahra Global Technologies and Consultancy Services, a private firm that provided training and services to Qatar’s armed forces.

Reportedly, the men were arrested in August last year on espionage charges, allegedly for “spying” for Israel.

It is reported that, initially the ex-officials were held in solitary confinement and were given consular access on October 3 last year.

As per a report, the verdict of capital punishment was declared after a total of three hearings.

Following the verdict, India’s external affairs ministry (MEA) expressed shock and stated, “We are in touch with the family members and the legal team, and we are exploring all legal options”.

We will continue to extend all consular and legal assistance. We will also take up the verdict with Qatari authorities,” the ministry added.

Notably, according to Article 36(1)(b) of the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, 1963, when a foreign national is arrested, the consular of the arrestee’s nationality has to be immediately notified of such arrest.

Prospects of capital punishment

K.P. Fabian, India’s former ambassador to Qatar, has said that he does not expect Qatar to implement the capital sentence.

According to a report in the Times of India, besides the execution of one Nepali migrant worker in 2021, no other death penalty has been executed in Qatar in the last 20 years.

T.P. Sreenivasan, former ambassador and permanent representative of India to the United Nations, shared his optimistic view with The Leaflet.

Terming the hanging of eight Indians by Qatar as “unthinkable”,  Sreenivasan points out that Qatar has friendly relations with India.

According to the MEA, there has been a regular exchange of high-level bilateral visits between India and Qatar.

Defence cooperation is considered an important pillar of the bilateral agenda between the countries. For instance, India offers training slots in its defence institutions to Qatar.

As reported by the Times of India, bilateral trade between India and Qatar stood at over US $15 billion in 2021–22.

Sreenivasan stated that Qatar’s “benign international image” contributes to his optimistic view that the execution of the eight Indian men will not be carried out.

Sreenivasan explained that Qatar runs a considerable humanitarian programme. Big organisations such as the headquarters of Al Jazeera and as well as one of the headquarters of the United States’ military operations are located in Qatar, he said.

According to Sreenivasan, the initiation of bilateral discussions between the countries is the next best immediate step to be taken by India before any legal recourse.

Legal options

Advocate M.R. Abhilash, practising in the Supreme Court, spoke with The Leaflet on the legal recourse that India could explore, besides the diplomatic remedy of conducting bilateral talks.

Highlighting the seriousness of the charges, Abhilash shared that Qatar tried the eight former officials concerning a crime that was against its sovereignty and committed in its territory.

India is, however, constrained in this situation due to the fundamental limitation that the eight convicts are retired officers, and thus, private Indian citizens who were not in government service during the commission of the alleged office, Abhilash stated.

Abhilash explains that once a year, the Qatar monarch or Emir extends a pardon to convicts of a capital sentence, which can be extended to the eight Indians as well.

According to Abhilash, the next legal step is challenging the Order of the Court of First Instance in the appellate court in Qatar.

If the appellate court does not give a favourable decision, Abhilash opines that the best way forward for India would be to exercise diplomatic pressure.

If even the appellant court or diplomatic pressure does not grant relief, India can approach the International Court of Justice (ICJ), Abhilash noted.

However, if India approaches the ICJ and the ICJ decides not to interfere with Qatar’s capital punishment, it will be a “diplomatic setback” for India to have rendered sovereign assistance to private individuals.

Quoting an ICJ precedent, Abhilash pointed out the case of Kubhushan Jadhav, a former Indian Navy officer who was sentenced to death in Pakistan on charges of espionage.

In 2017, India filed an appeal with the ICJ, challenging the sentencing. The ICJ directed Pakistan to suspend the execution and to review the entire process of trial and conviction, as well as to provide India with consular access.

Abhilash, however, highlighted that since Qatar is not an “enemy country”, Indian authorities may approach the ICJ only as a last resort when diplomatic means fail.

The Leaflet