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A court in Qatar has sentenced eight retired Indian Navy officers to death, according to India’s Ministry of External Affairs.

The Indian government said it is “deeply shocked by the verdict” and is “awaiting the detailed judgment.”

The eight men, who had been working as contractors for the Qatari Emiri Navy, were arrested in August 2022 by Qatari intelligence and put into solitary confinement. The arrests, which came just weeks ahead of the 2022 FIFA World Cup, were said to be related to allegations that the men had spied for Israel.

More than a year later, and even after their convictions, the charges have yet to be made public or confirmed by official sources in Doha or New Delhi. But numerous Indian news outlets — including The Tribune and The Print — have reported that the men were been charged with spying for Israel.

What Were They Allegedly Spying On?

Indian investigative journalist Praveen Swami reported this spring that Qatar claims to “have intercepted electronic communications” proving that the ex-Indian naval officers spied on a Qatari submarine program and passed on the intelligence to Israel. Some sources claim that this could be related to Italian midget submarines reportedly being built for the Qatari Emiri Navy.

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The Big Picture

The retired officers’ convictions and death sentences now test relations between India and the tiny, wealthy Gulf Arab country. Will Qatar follow through with the death sentences or commute them as part of a deal with India? How Doha proceeds may have political ramifications in New Delhi, where Prime Minister Narendra Modi has cultivated a strongman image, including through an overseas assassination campaign that has extended into Canada. The death sentences in Doha may put a dent in Modi’s re-election campaign, puncturing his aura of invincibility as India heads to general elections in 2024.

Arif Rafiq is the editor of Globely News. Rafiq has contributed commentary and analysis on global issues for publications such as Foreign Affairs, Foreign Policy, the New Republic, the New York Times, and POLITICO Magazine.

He has appeared on numerous broadcast outlets, including Al Jazeera English, the BBC World Service, CNN International, and National Public Radio.

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