NEW DELHI (AFP) - India’s Supreme Court commuted the death sentence on Tuesday for three killers of former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi, citing delays in the case 23 years after he was assassinated by Tamil separatists.
The court headed by Chief Justice P. Sathasivam spared the three killers from the gallows on the grounds that successive Indian presidents had taken 11 years in deciding on their pleas for mercy.
“We implore the government to render advice in a reasonable amount of time for taking a decision on mercy pleas,” Sathasivam told the court in announcing the judgement.
The decision comes after the Supreme Court last month commuted the death sentences of 15 convicts in a ruling that places new restrictions on executing prisoners in the world’s biggest democracy.
The three killers at the centre of Tuesday’s ruling were members of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), a mainly Sri Lankan-based separatist movement.
Murugan, Santhan and Perarivalan – all of whom are known by a single name – were convicted of plotting the May 21, 1991 murder of Gandhi by a female suicide bomber.
Gandhi had become India’s youngest ever prime minister after his mother, former premier Indira Gandhi, was assassinated in October 1984. He ruled until losing an election five years later.
His widow Sonia is the president of the ruling Congress party and his son Rahul is the frontman for the party’s campaign in elections due by May.
The shredded clothes and the shoes that Rajiv was wearing when he was killed while on an election tour in the south of the country remain on display in a museum in the Indian capital.