India’s Supreme Court today commuted the death sentences of three men convicted of killing former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi to life term imprisonment.
Rejecting the government's view that an 11-year delay in deciding their mercy petition was not agony for the convicts, the court ruled that the three -- Santhan, Murugan and Perarivalan -- can also be released if the southern Indian state Tamil Nadu government grants them remission.
A bench of the apex court, headed by the Chief Justice of India, P Sathasivam, did not accept the government's view that the convicts did not deserve mercy, reports our New Delhi correspondent.
The Indian Attorney General Goolam E Vahanvati had said there was "not a word of remorse" in the convicts' petition for mercy.
At the previous hearing Vahanvati had said, "they (the convicts) are leading a disciplined life, entertaining and educating inmates, so there is no agony, torture or dehumanising effect due to delay."
Today's verdict follows the Supreme Court's January 21 order commuting the death sentences of 15 convicts, announcing that "inordinate and inexplicable" delays in carrying out executions were grounds for reducing their original punishment. Santhan, Perarivalan and Murugan were convicted in 1998 for Rajiv Gandhi's assassination in May 1991.
Their mercy petition was sent to the president of India, the last stage in the process of appeals, in 2000 and was rejected 11 years later. Their hanging was stayed in 2011 on the orders of the Madras High Court.
Murugan's wife Nalini was also sentenced to death but it was commuted to life on the intervention of Rajiv Gandhi's widow and India’s ruling Congress party chief Sonia Gandhi.
Rajiv Gandhi was killed by a woman suicide bomber on May 21 at Sriperambudur, near Chennai, in Tamil Nadu.