Nalini Sriharan and five more convicts in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case have been freed by the Supreme Court after 31 years in jail.
In May, the Supreme Court used its extraordinary powers to free a seventh convict, Perarivalan. The same order applied to the rest of the convicts, the court said.
The court also noted that the Tamil Nadu cabinet had recommended to the Governor in 2018 that the convicts be freed and the Governor was bound by it.
Besides Nalini, the others jailed for the 1991 assassination of former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi were Sriharan, Santhan, Murugan, Robert Payas and RP Ravichandran.
The Supreme Court said the convicts had showed “satisfactory behaviour”, acquired degrees, written books and had also participated in social service.
“Magizhchi,” said Nalini’s lawyer, using the Tamil word for “a state of joy”.
The Rajiv Gandhi assassination case stirs deep emotions in Tamil Nadu and every government in the state, whether led by the AIADMK or DMK, has campaigned for their freedom after decades in jail. Many in Tamil Nadu believe that the seven prisoners played minor roles in the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi and were duped into taking part in a plot they knew little about.
Rajiv Gandhi was assassinated on May 21, 1991, at Sriperumbudur in Tamil Nadu by a woman suicide bomber of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) group from neighbouring Sri Lanka.
The seven convicts were sentenced to death for their role in the killing.
In 2000, Nalini Sriharan’s sentence was reduced to a life term on the intervention of Sonia Gandhi, Rajiv Gandhi’s wife and former Congress president. In 2008, Priyanka Gandhi Vadra, the daughter of Rajiv Gandhi, met with her in Vellore jail.
The sentence of six more convicts was also commuted in 2014. The same year, then Tamil Nadu Chief Minister J Jayalalitha initiated moves to free them.
The Congress strongly objected to the Supreme Court order freeing Rajiv Gandhi’s assassins.
“The decision of the Supreme Court to free the remaining killers of former PM Rajiv Gandhi is totally unacceptable and completely erroneous. The Congress Party criticises it clearly and finds it wholly untenable. It is most unfortunate that the Supreme Court has not acted in consonance with the spirit of India on this issue,” said Congress general secretary Jairam Ramesh.
Nalini Sriharan’s brother Bakianathan said the convicts had already served three decades in prison and had suffered enough. “They were released on humanitarian grounds. Those who oppose their release should respect the laws of India,” Bakianathan told NDTV.