- CBI has opposed the release of the 7 convicts
- Tamil Nadu had requested for the release of the killers
- The seven convicts have been in jail for 27 years
The seven Rajiv Gandhi assassination convicts jailed in Tamil Nadu cannot be released, the government told the Supreme Court today, asserting that the case involves the assassination of a former Prime Minister.
The assassination of Rajiv Gandhi was a "most heinous and brutal crime," the government said, one which had brought the Indian democratic process to a "grinding halt" as general and state elections had to be postponed.
The centre said the trial court had given "cogent reasons" for imposing death penalty upon the accused and pointed out that even the Supreme Court had termed the assassination an "unparalleled act" in the annals of crimes committed in this country.
"... Releasing the four foreign nationals who had committed the gruesome murder of former prime minister of this country, along with 15 others most of whom were police officers, in connivance with three Indian nationals will set a very dangerous precedent and lead to international ramifications by other such criminals in the future," the centre said.
The CBI, which investigated the case, has opposed the release of the seven convicts. Tamil Nadu had been informed of the decision on April 18, the centre said.
The convicts - Perarivalan, Murugan, Santham, Nalini Sriharan, Robert Payas, Jayakumar and Ravichandran - have been in jail for 27 years, serving life terms.
The court had asked the centre to decide and respond to Tamil Nadu's request to release them. A constitution bench of top Supreme Court judges had said in 2015 that the convicts cannot be released without the central government's consent.
Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated in 1991 by a woman operative of the separatist Lankan Tamil outfit LTTE, who greeted him at a rally in Sriperumbudur town with a bomb strapped to her chest.
In April, the Madras High Court rejected Nalini Sriharan's request for early release. Her death sentence was commuted on the request of Congress leader Sonia Gandhi, the wife of Rajiv Gandhi.
Another convict, Perarivalan, had requested that the case be reopened and his conviction be cancelled. The Supreme Court rejected it in March.
Perarivalan, 19 at the time, was convicted for supplying two nine-volt batteries for the belt-bomb. He told a court that he had no idea what the batteries were for.
Congress President Rahul Gandhi, the son of Rajiv Gandhi, had said he had no objection to Perarivalan's release, Tamil film director PA Ranjith was quoted as saying recently.
The assassination, the trial and the convicts have been an emotive subject in Tamil Nadu over the years, key to the campaigns of the two main parties in the state, the ruling AIADMK and the opposition DMK. Many in Tamil Nadu believe that the convicts played minor roles and were drawn into a plot they knew little about.
In 2014, then Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa decided to release the convicts but the centre - the Congress-led government was in power - challenged her decision. The Supreme Court then said the state could not take such a decision without the centre's sanction, as the case was investigated by the CBI.