Expressing regret over the President rejecting the mercy plea of the four incarcerated aides of the slain forest brigand Veerappan, advocate S. Venugopal has said the men, who have been in jail for nearly 20 years, could have walked free a few years ago but for the activism shown by some organisations, including human rights groups.

The lawyer, who appeared on behalf of Veerappan’s associates in the Palar blast case, told The Hindu that the four convicts had been in prison since 1993.

In 2001, a TADA court in Mysore sentenced them to life imprisonment.

“A few organisations and activists held a meeting at Kolathur in Tamil Nadu and I also attended it. It was decided at the meeting to go on appeal against the life sentence in the Supreme Court though I vehemently opposed it as it was a matter of only a few years and the danger existed of the apex court awarding a harsher sentence. But my suggestion was turned down. And the Supreme Court enhanced the life sentence to death sentence as I had feared,” said Mr. Venugopal.