Supreme Court orders release of six people convicted for Rajiv Gandhi’s murder



The Supreme Court on Friday, November 11, ordered the release of six persons who had been convicted for the assassination of former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi in 1991. The apex court of India ordered the convicts’ release after two of them – S Nalini and RP Ravichandran – sought an early release from prison. All seven convicts were serving life sentences and had spent more than 30 years in jail.

The duo had filed their petition requesting an early release after the Supreme Court freed AG Perarivalan, another convict in the case, in May. While ordering their release the court observed that the conduct of all the convicts during their time in prison had been satisfactory. The convicts, whose release was ordered on Friday, were among 25 people initially sentenced to death in 1998 by a trial court.

When the case was heard by the Supreme Court, the apex court of the country upheld the conviction of only seven of the 25. Four of the convicts – Perarivalan, S Nalini, Santhan, and Sriharan – received the death penalty while three others were awarded life sentences. The remaining were cleared of all charges and freed.

Nalini’s death sentence was commuted in 2000 following a clemency petition by Gandhi’s widow Sonia Gandhi who had pointed out that the prisoner was pregnant at the time. In 2014, the Supreme Court commuted the death sentences of Perarivalan, Santhan, and Sriharan too, citing delays in deciding their mercy pleas.

When the Tamil Nadu state government announced its decision to free the plotters, the federal government launched a legal challenge to stop the state from freeing them.

In May 1991 Gandhi fell prey to a suicide bombing in Sriperumbudur in Tamil Nadu on May 21, 1991. The assassination was seen as retaliation by Sri Lanka’s Tamil Tiger rebel group for India’s involvement in the island nation’s civil war after Delhi sent peacekeepers there in 1987 when he was prime minister. The woman suicide bomber bent down to touch the former PM’s feet during a poll rally and detonated an RDX explosive-laden belt tucked below her dress at 10.10 pm. As many as 14 others were killed and over 40 others were injured in the blast. One of the 14 victims, a photographer named Haribabu, had captured the suicide bomber, identified as Thenmozhi Rajaratnam alias Dhanu from Jaffna, and Rajiv Gandhi, on his film and camera, which were recovered intact.

On Friday the Congress party criticized the court’s decision to free the convicts. “The decision of the Supreme Court to free the killers is totally unacceptable and completely erroneous. The Congress party finds it wholly untenable,” party spokesman Jairam Ramesh said in a statement. “It is most unfortunate that the Supreme Court has not acted in consonance with the spirit of India on this issue,” he added.

“The assassination of Rajiv Gandhi was an attack on the soul of India. The release of the killers of a former prime minister of India and our great leader, as well as several other innocent Indians, would be contrary to all principles of justice,” Manmohan Singh, then the prime minister, said in a statement. “No government or party should be soft in our fight against terrorism.”




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