India’s Supreme Court (SC) Tuesday commuted the death penalty of former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi’s killers to life imprisonment, citing an 11-year delay in deciding their mercy pleas.
A SC-bench headed by India's Chief Justice P Sathasivam rejected the federal government’s argument against the three convicts – Santhan, Murugan and Perarivalan – that there was no “unreasonable delay” in deciding their mercy pleas.
The top court also dismissed the government’s submission that the three convicts were "enjoying life" in prison, as opposed to their lawyer's claim that they were experiencing "torture and mental anguish."
The court bench decided that there has been an inordinate delay by the government and President of India to decide the convict’s mercy pleas.
“We implore government to render advice in reasonable time to the President for taking a decision on mercy pleas,” the top court remarked.
The bench also observed that government should consider the new criteria of inordinate delay in commuting death penalty to life term.
“We are confident that mercy plea can be decided at much faster speed than what is being done now,” the court said.
Rajiv Gandhi, the former prime minister of India, was assassinated in May 1991 during an election campaign by Sri Lankan rebel group Liberation Tigers of Tamil Elam (LTTE).
An anti-terror court sentenced the killers to death penalty in January 1998 and India’s top court upheld the sentence in May 1999.
The convicts appealed to the President of India in the form of a mercy plea - which was rejected by the President 11 years later. In 2011, Madras High Court stayed the hanging.
In May 2012, SC took up the case of death penalty.