Indian court frees Rajiv Gandhi killer from prison after 31 years

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AG Perarivalan (left), convicted of taking part in the assassination of former Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, seen with his mother Arputhammal after India’s supreme court ordered his release (Screengrab/Hindustan Times/ YouTube)
AG Perarivalan (left), convicted of taking part in the assassination of former Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi, seen with his mother Arputhammal after India’s supreme court ordered his release (Screengrab/Hindustan Times/ YouTube)

A prisoner who was one of several convicted over the assassination of India’s former prime minister Rajiv Gandhi is to be released after 31 years under orders from the country’s Supreme Court.

AG Perarivalan has been in jail for 31 years and was 19 years old when he was arrested in 1991. The court on Wednesday ordered his release in response to a plea by the Tamil Nadu state government.

The case has highlighted the “humiliations, insult and pain” faced by his mother who has fought for his release for decades.

Perarivalan was arrested for buying batteries for a bomb used to assassinate Mr Gandhi in Tamil Nadu in 1991.

He was initially given the death penalty, but this sentence was later commuted to life.

Gandhi's assassination was widely seen as retaliation for his having sent Indian peacekeepers to Sri Lanka in 1987 when he was prime minister.

Perarivalan was a member of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE), a rebel group fighting for a separate Tamil state in Sri Lanka. The rebels were finally defeated by Sri Lankan troops in 2009.

Hours after the court ruling, Perarivalan addressed the media outside his home and said “honesty” was what gave him and his mother Arputhammal the strength to fight for so long.

“She has faced lots of humiliations, insult and pain over these years. Despite that, she has fought for justice for 31 years. The honesty in [this] case was what gave both of us the strength to fight this battle. The verdict is a victory for her struggle,” he said.

Arputhammal spoke to the media after the court’s order as well.

“Only if we sit and think we will know the pain of a person who has spent 31 years behind bars. My son has overcome that now,” she said.

“I would like to thank [Tamil Nadu chief minister] MK Stalin. I would also like to thank all the leaders, and everyone who supported us and our struggle,” she added.

Even though several political parties across the country welcomed the court’s order, the Indian National Congress party, which has been run by the Gandhi family for decades, expressed displeasure over Perarivalan’s release.

Tamil Nadu Congress committee president KS Alagiri tweeted: “We do not want to criticise the judgment of the Supreme Court. At the same time, we want to emphasise that the perpetrators are murderers and that they are not innocent.”

Political commentators, however, said that Perarivalan release meant the Supreme Court has “undone long-standing miscarriage of justice”.

Many pointed out that Perarivalan had been “wrongly sentenced” and accused the federal government of political hesitancy in urging for his release.

The top court had earlier granted bail to Perarivalan on 9 March while taking note of his long incarceration and good behaviour when out on parole. He was granted parole three times.

The convict had been out of jail since then, but Wednesday’s court order from the top court bench of Justices L Nageswara Rao and BR Gavai invoked powers under Article 142 of the Indian constitution to give him a full release from the sentence he was serving.

Article 142 empowers the top court to exercise its jurisdiction and pass a decree or order “for doing complete justice in any cause or matter pending before it”, according to news portal The Wire.

“State cabinet had taken its decision based on relevant considerations. In exercise of Article 142, it is appropriate to release the convict,” the court said in its order.

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