India’s highest court clears Rajiv Gandhi’s killers

India’s highest court clears Rajiv Gandhi’s killers


India’s top court on Friday ordered the release of six people convicted of the assassination of former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi.

Gandhi was 46 when he was killed by a female suicide bomber at a campaign rally in the southern state of Tamil Nadu in 1991.

The assassination was carried out by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), an armed separatist group in Sri Lanka.

India’s Supreme Court said the convicts would be released in prison for their “satisfactory conduct” and had served more than three decades in prison.

The six – three of whom had been sentenced to death before their sentences were commuted – are the last remaining in prison for the assassination, although two were already on probation.

“I’m very happy… I’m very grateful to every single one,” Nalini Sriharan, one of the two parolees, told CNN News18.

The “last 32 years have been a struggle,” she added.

She and her husband – another of the convicts ordered by the court – were both initially sentenced to death.

Earlier this year the court released another convict facing execution, AG Perarivalan, on grounds of good behavior.

Gandhi became India’s youngest prime minister after his mother and predecessor, Indira Gandhi, was assassinated by her Sikh bodyguards in 1984.

The family’s Congress party dominated Indian politics for decades, and Rajiv’s widow Sonia remains the most powerful figure in the organization, while her son Rahul is seen as the main political opponent of current Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

The assassination of Rajiv Gandhi was widely seen as a reaction to his attempt to send Indian troops to Sri Lanka in 1987 to disarm the Tamil rebels.

India later withdrew its troops after losing more than 1,000 of them in battles with the rebels.

The release of the convicts was the subject of much debate in India, and Congress condemned the court decision as “completely unacceptable” and “completely wrong”.

“It is extremely unfortunate that the Supreme Court has not acted in accordance with the spirit of India on this matter,” the party said, tweeting a statement from senior member Jairam Ramesh.

But India itself has a sizeable Tamil population, and state governments in Tamil Nadu have repeatedly called for the release of those convicted.

Earlier this year, the current Prime Minister of Tamil Nadu, MK Stalin, tweeted a picture of him hugging Perarivalan after his release in Chennai.

Gandhi’s son has spoken over the years about how he and his sister Priyanka had forgiven their father’s killers.

“We were very upset and hurt and quite angry for many years,” the Indian Express newspaper quoted Rahul in 2018. But they’ve since forgiven them, he said, “actually completely.”

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