Ten days before they were to hang, three Rajiv Gandhi killers today got a reprieve from the Madras High Court which stayed their execution for eight weeks even as the
Tamil Nadu Assembly in an unprecedented unanimous resolution appealed to the President to reconsider their mercy pleas.
Stopping the execution set for September 9, a Bench comprising justices C Nagappan and M Sathayanarayanan issued notices to the Centre, the state government and the police, observing there had been a delay of over 11 years in the disposal of their petitions seeking Presidential clemency.
Murugan, Santhan and Perarivalan, lodged in Vellore Jail, were convicted and sentenced to death in the case relating to the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi during an election rally at Sriperumpudur on May 21, 1991 by an LTTE suicide bomber.
“The High Court is doing justice. Be sure. They have stayed the execution,” Ram Jethmalani, who pleaded their case, told reporters after the court's interim order.
Jethmalani, Colin Gonsalves and R Vaigai, appearing for the three convicts, contended the “inordinate and inexplicable delay” in disposing of their mercy petitions violated Article 21 of the Constitution (Protection of life and personal liberty).
Shortly before the High Court order, the Assembly unanimously adopted the resolution moved by Jayalalithaa requesting President Pratibha Patil to reconsider the mercy petitions rejected early this month.
A huge crowd outside the court cheered the interim order that was keenly awaited by leaders of several political parties and human rights groups who have launched a campaign to save the lives of the three convicts.
MDMK leader Vaiko, who has been strongly pleading for their release, was also present in court.
The delay of 11 years in deciding their mercy plea was “mental torture” for the convicts, said Jethmalani. “You make them suffer a thousand times. Is this justice?” Jethmalani asked.
In the Assembly, bowing to pressure from various political leaders, Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa moved the resolution urging the President to commute the death sentences of the three convicts.
She said the people of the state were “saddened” by the fact that the death sentence was to be executed soon.
The move by Jayalalithaa came a day after she told the Assembly that she did not have the power to annul the death sentence or put their execution on hold after the rejection of their mercy plea by the President.
“Many political parties have appealed to me to commute death sentences and in order to respect the sentiments of the people of the state, I appeal to the members of the house to pass the resolution unanimously,” she said.
The court order and the Assembly initiative were welcomed by Perarivalan's family members, present in the court.
His mother Arputhammal claimed all three condemned prisoners were innocent and should be allowed to live.
“I was in grief on whether I would get my son back. But Amma (Jayalalithaa) has passed a resolution and has given me joy. She has given me hope of bringing back my son. I am extremely happy. I don't know how to express my happiness. I am thankful to all those who worked for this,” she told reporters.
“Everyone has struggled for my son and this support should be there till my son is released,” she said before breaking down.
Perarivalan's father Kuyildasan said the stay was due to the efforts of the people and lawyers.
Welcoming the adoption of the resolution in the Assembly, he said different parties have come together to request the President to reconsider the mercy petitions.
Perarivalan's sister said she had immense faith in the judiciary. “This is only a stay. What we want is complete release.”
The three convicts were sentenced to death in 1999, along with Nalini, who is married to Murugan. After Nalini gave birth to a baby girl in jail, her death sentence was commuted to life following a request made by Sonia Gandhi.
Posted: Tue Aug 30 2011, 11:23 hrs
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