Rajiv Gandhi assassination: Madras High Court stays convicts' execution for eight weeks

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Rajiv Gandhi assassination: Madras High Court stays convicts' execution for eight weeks
Chennai:  The Madras High Court today stayed for eight weeks the execution of three convicts on death row for plotting the assassination of former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi.

The convicts - AG Perarivalan, T Suthendraraja alias Santhan and Sriharan alias Murugan - were scheduled to be hanged on September 9. All three have been behind bars for almost 20 years - Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated in May 1991. Their mercy petitions were rejected by President Pratibha Patil on August 11.

The convicts sought a stay on the execution of their death sentence on the ground that the President has taken 11 long years to dispose their mercy pleas. Their petition said this delay is "illegal and unconstitutional." (In Pics: Remembering Rajiv Gandhi)

The scheduled execution of the three assassins had turned into a politically-loaded issue in Tamil Nadu, with the state's government and Opposition blaming each other for not doing enough to save them.

The 20-year-old daughter of one of the assassins appealed to Sonia Gandhi and Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Jayalalithaa to help save her father, Murugan. His hanging had been scheduled at the Vellore Jail on September 9.

In 1999, the Supreme Court gave Murugun the death sentence along with two other men. Murugun and Santhan are both Sri Lankan Tamils; Perarivalan is Indian. All three men appealed that their death sentence be commuted.

Murugun is married to Nalini, whose death sentence was commuted at Sonia Gandhi's request in 2000, when Nalini delivered a baby daughter, Harithra, in jail. Mrs Gandhi's husband and former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated by a suicide bomber at an election rally in Sriperumbudur.

"I lived without father and mother for many years. I miss them. I saw them last when I was a child," she says. "The letters they send me are the only happiness I have," says Harithra in a clip on YouTube. She reportedly lives in London.

Jayalalithaa pointed out that once the country's President rejects mercy petitions, the Chief Minister cannot intervene. "I don't have any power to alter the Presidential order rejecting the mercy petitions of the three," she said on Monday morning in the Assembly, asking other parties to refrain from suggesting otherwise.

But Jayalalithaa's long-time rival DMK chief Karunanidhi, said, "Had young leader Rajiv Gandhi been alive today, that noble man would have definitely come forward to save the lives of Santhan, Perarivalan and Murugan, responding to the voice of true Tamils."

Perarivalan, who has an engineering diploma, was arrested for helping procure batteries for the bomb and assembling it. Santhan and Murugan indoctrinated Nalini.

On Sunday, a 19-year-old pro-Tamil activist died after set herself on fire in Kancheepuram to protest against the scheduled execution of the three men.


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