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January 28, 1998


26 sentenced to death for Rajiv Gandhi's assassination

E-Mail this story to a friend N Sathiya Moorthy in Madras

All the 26 accused, including five women, have been sentenced to death in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case.

Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act court Special Judge V Navaneetham also held the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam and its supremo Velupillai Prabhakaran responsible for the assassination.

''India's pride and stand have been vindicated,'' Central Bureau of Investigation's Special Investigation Team Director D R Karthikeyan told the waiting media outside the high-security prison-cum-court complex at Poonamalee, 30 km from Madras. ''The sweat and toil of the SIT officers in the single-minded pursuit of truth, has been upheld. The CBI-SIT has proved that the Indian police is second to none in the world.''

''All the 26 accused have been sentenced to death,'' Karthikeyan declared, as mediapersons were barred -- as during the rest of the proceedings -- from hearing the judge's verdict, and see him 'break' his pen in conformity with court tradition involving death sentence.

The official would not elaborate on the findings and observations of the court, and would do so tomorrow, after studying the 2,000-odd pages of judgment.

Among the accused, Nalini -- she was the only surviving accused present at the assassination -- and Perarivalan have been found guilty of murder under Section 302 of the Indian Penal Code on 16 counts. She has been convicted under Section 3 of TADA, both read with Section 120-B of the IPC, dealing with conspiracy. All three sections are punishable with death.

While the two accused have also been punished under various other sections of the IPC for causing grievous hurt (Section 226) and simple injury (Section 224) to persons at the assassination site, they have --along with all others -- also been imprisoned under Section 3(4) of TADA (causing the death of nine police officers, including Superintendent of Police Mohammed Iqbal).

The court also upheld the prosecution case that Perarivalan had procured batteries and other materials required for the fabrication of the belt-bomb that killed Rajiv Gandhi on the night of May 21, 1991, while campaigning for the Congress at Sriperumbudur, some 50 km from Madras.

This, along with conspiracy under Section 120-B of the IPC and under Sections 3(d) and 3(4) of TADA had made him a possible candidate for the death sentence along with Nalini, as the day's earlier briefings on the conviction of the accused had showed.

However, the final verdict, when it came, had the media spellbound. Among them was a shell-shocked Arun Kumar, photographer son of 'Subha' Sundaram. The latter was also sentenced under Section 201 of the IPC for causing the disappearance of evidence, in the form of some papers from the house of Hari Babu, another photographer, who died in the blast.

Among those sentenced to death are Padma, the nurse-mother of Nalini, and Bhagyanathan, Nalini's brother. Nalini's lover-turned-husband, Murugan alias Sriharan -- they got married in prison and are now parents of a five-year-old daughter -- has been sentenced to death on all these counts, as also to a life term under Section 4(4) of TADA and under the Foreigners Act, as he was in India without valid documents. Murugan is a Sri Lankan.

Two other couples have also been found guilty in the case. They are S Jayakumar and his wife J Shanthi, and also S Vijayan and his wife Selvaluxmi. S Bhaskaran, who has also been sentenced to death and to life terms on other counts is Selvaluxmi's father.

Among the punishment for other offences, Perarivalan and Irumborai alone get the minimum sentence of three months each for violating the Passport Act. They visited Sri Lanka clandestinely without valid passports, to meet with LTTE leaders and take training in their jungle hide-outs.

While all the accused have been awarded various terms of imprisonment -- including at least one life term each, all of them to run concurrently apart from the death sentence -- none has been ordered to pay any fine.

Other laws under which some of them have been punished include the Arms Act, for possessing illegal weapons and armaments, the Foreigners Act, applicable in this case to Sri Lankan Tamils accused for staying in India without a valid visa, and the Wireless Telegraphy Act for possessing illegal transmitters.

While 'murder' under Section 302 of the IPC entails up to capital punishment, Sections 326 and 324, respectively, deal with grievous hurt and simple injury.

Section 201 of the IPC deals with causing disappearance of evidence, while Section 212 is about harboring criminals. In variation thereof, Section 216 relates to harboring proclaimed offenders, under which J Ranganath has been found guilty.

Sivarasan and his female accomplice Subha were sheltered in Ranganath's home at Konanakunte in Bangalore from where an SIT crack-team recovered their bodies. They had committed suicide, like nine other accused against whom the case could not be proceeded with.

That was also the case with Dhanu, the human bomb that killed Rajiv Gandhi and 15 others, including photographer Haribabu, another accused ''Mirsdar'' Shanmugam. He was found hanging when the SIT was interrogating him at a guest house in interior Tamil Nadu.

''Over all, we are happy with the verdict,'' said CBI's Deputy Legal Officer Jacob Reginald Daniel who was also the Special Public Prosecutor co-ordinating the prosecution case on a day-to-day basis along with another Special Public Prosecutor P Rajamanickam. But the defence was not happy, and Gopalakrishnan, one of the eight defence counsel, expressed his anguish, saying that they would go on in appeal.

It cannot be said the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case has come to an end. Prabhakaran and two others are yet to be apprehended, extradited and made to stand trial.

Longest assassination trial reaches appeals stage
Judgment first in Indian legal history
Penchant for photographic record nailed LTTE
SIT built up a huge bank of evidence against LTTE
Prabhakaran had Rajiv killed for being 'anti-Tamil'
V Gopalsamy, three other witnesses turned hostile
25 LTTE militants committed suicide during the probe
Chronology of events
The Accused
Trail of hate

The Jain Commission Controversy

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