By Leo Fernando
Church leaders in Tamil Nadu have joined growing calls for clemency for three men waiting to be executed for their part in the assassination of former Indian prime minister Rajiv Gandhi.
“We urge clemency for the three men on death row,” said Father Vincent Chinnadurai, chairperson of the state minority commission.
The Catholic Church is always against capital punishment, which denies prisoners the right to reform themselves, the priest said.
Santhan, Murugan and Perarivalan – were scheduled to go to the gallows on September 9 after Indian President Prathibha Devisingh Patil rejected their pleas for mercy on August 11.
This prompted urgent calls for clemency by political parties, lawyers and social activists, as well as street protests by students and pro-Tamil groups.
After further appeals on Tuesday, the Madras high court stayed their executions for eight weeks, while the state legislative assembly has unanimously backed a resolution calling for their sentences to be commuted.
Many people feel that having been incarcerated for longer than an average life sentence, they have been punished enough.
“The three men have already served 20 years in prison so why punish them again with the death penalty?” Father Chinnadurai asked.
Gandhi was assassinated in 1991 during an election rally in Sriperumpudur near Chennai, capital of Tamil Nadu, by a female suicide bomber, an alleged member of the Liberation of Tigers of Tamil Eelam.
Sixteen other people, including the bomber, were killed in the blast.
In 1998, a court convicted 26 people, including the three men and one woman, Nalini Sriharan, who is Murugan’s wife, and sentenced them to death by hanging.
However, in 1999 the Supreme Court released 19 people, and commuted the sentence s of three others to life imprisonment. It upheld the death sentences on the three currently on death row as well as Sriharan’s.
However, the Tamil Nadu governor commuted her sentence to life after Gandhi’s widow Sonia Gandhi requested clemency.