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We survived only because of our defence training, says Navy veteran released from Qatar

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One of the 8 Navy veterans, retired Indian Navy captain Saurabh Vashishtha, who returned to India on Monday after being released from a Qatar jail

One of the 8 Navy veterans, retired Indian Navy captain Saurabh Vashishtha, who returned to India on Monday after being released from a Qatar jail

Thiruvananthapuram: Rajesh Gopakumar, one of the eight Indian Navy veterans released by the Qatar government, expressed joy and gratitude over returning home and being reunited with his family after spending months in captivity in the tiny Gulf nation.

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"We are just happy to be alive... happy to be home," a relieved Gopakumar said, adding that he and his colleagues survived only because of their Defence training.

He was freed along with seven other former Navy personnel by Qatar two days ago after their death sentences were commuted to jail terms of varying duration.

Gopakumar arrived in Balaramapuram, a suburb located over 16 km away from Kerala's capital city, on Monday and tearfully hugged his family members.

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Speaking to PTI, the ex-Navy man said, "Prison and confinement is something terrible." Whenever someone enquired what the plight of his family had been when he was in prison, he would ask them to imagine a situation where a husband who used to speak to his wife at least five times a day suddenly stopped calling her.

The former Navy veteran attributed his release to his family's prayers and the efforts of the Union government.

Lavishing praises on Prime Minister Narendra Modi, he said it was only because of his personal intervention that their release was made possible.

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Gopakumar said all of them were hopeful that they would step out of the prison "if Modiji intervened" but had no idea how long it would take.

He also expressed gratitude to the central government for having made arrangements to bring the families of the jailed ex-Naval officers to Qatar.

"If an Indian is in trouble abroad and is innocent... if our PM is convinced about it, he will come to their rescue even if it is just one person... every Indian should know this," he said.

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Recalling his days in prison, Gopakumar said he and his colleagues survived only because of the training they underwent as Defence forces.

Gopakumar said he had retired from the Indian Navy in 2017 and later joined the Oman Defence training company as a communications instructor.

The eight Indian Navy personnel faced charges of espionage but neither the Qatari authorities nor New Delhi had made the allegations levelled against them public.

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On October 26, they were sentenced to death by Qatar’s Court of First Instance.

On December 28, the Court of Appeal in the Gulf nation commuted the capital punishment and sentenced them to jail terms for durations ranging from three years to 25 years.

The Court of Appeal had given 60 days to appeal against the prison terms.

In December last year, Prime Minister Narendra Modi met Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani on the sidelines of the COP28 Summit in Dubai and discussed the well-being of Indians in Qatar.

It is learnt that National Security Adviser Ajit Doval played a role in the negotiations with the Qatari authorities in securing the release of the Indians. 

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