Sonia had sought Presidential pardon for accused in 1999
Arputham Ammal — mother of A.G. Perarivalan, who is on death row in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case — on Monday appealed to Congress president Sonia Gandhi that she speak out against the sentence.
Perarivalan, Santhan and Murugan are on death row after their mercy petitions were rejected by the President.
Referring to a letter Ms. Gandhi had written in 1999 to the former President, K.R. Narayanan, seeking pardon for the accused, Ms. Arputham Ammal said: “Sonia Gandhi should once again say that the lives of the three persons sentenced to death should be spared.”
“Perarivalan went to prison when he was 19. Today he is 40. All these years, I have been fighting to prove his innocence. We have all been penalised for no fault of ours,” she told a press conference here.
Calling his incarceration “unjustified,” she maintained that her son was innocent and had “nothing to do with the assassination.”
“If reformation is the purpose of punishment, death is not the proper punishment. Perarivalan's mercy petition was pending for 11 years. Why was there a delay?”
A group of around 10 youths, allegedly from the Congress-affiliated National Students' Union of India (NSUI) tried to disrupt the press conference where the Hindi translation of Perarivalan's book An Appeal from Death Row was released.
They raised banners, black ribbons for protests and the slogan, Rajiv Gandhi Amar Rahe [Long Live Rajiv Gandhi]. They had to be removed from the venue.
The former Judge, Hosbet Suresh, asked if it was right to hang Perarivalan after his mercy petition had been delayed for 11 years. It was possible for the President to reconsider the petition, he said.
“Should we hang him at this stage? The lives of all the four [including Nalini, whose death sentence was commuted to life] have been living deaths for the past 12 years. Besides a 9-volt battery which Perarivalan gave to [conspirator] Sivarasan, there is no material evidence against him. The case was tried under the TADA [Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act], which was later dropped. The [accused] thus lost one right to appeal [The TADA barred appeal to the High Court],” Mr. Suresh said.
Making a case for the abolition of the death penalty in India, Mr. Suresh said around 130 countries had abolished the “inhuman and brutal” method of punishment. His stand was unequivocal even when asked about 26/11 gunman Mohammad Ajmal Amir Kasab.
“Even in Kasab's case, I openly say we cannot impose the death sentence. Convict him; punish him. Death is not a punishment; it is a retributive theory of justice — since he killed, so kill him. There should be a moratorium on the death penalty all over the world.”
It was pointed out that Perarivalan's conduct in the prison was exemplary, that he had cleared his examinations.
P.A. Sebastian, president of the Committee for Protection of Democratic rights (CPDR), said: “Who says the Supreme Court can't make mistakes? The death row convicts should be pardoned by the President.” He said those involved in the assassination were not terrorists, but “freedom fighters.”