The three condemned prisoners in the ‘Rajiv Gandhi assassination case', whose mercy plea was rejected by the President, have filed writ petitions in the Madras High Court seeking the quashing of the decision and commutation of their sentence to one of life.

In their interim prayer, the three – A.G.Perarivalan alias Arivu, V.Sriharan alias Murugan and T.Suthendraraja alias Santhan – all incarcerated in the Central Prison, Vellore, sought an injunction restraining the authorities from executing them on September 9.

On Monday, counsel made a mention before Justice N.Paul Vasanthakumar about the filing of the petitions and requested that they be taken up for early hearing. The matter is to come up for hearing on Tuesday.

The prisoners' main ground was that there was a long delay in deciding their mercy plea. Their mercy petitions were lying with the President without any decision being taken for 11 years. By a letter dated August 12 this year, the Union Ministry of Home Affairs informed them that the President had rejected their mercy petitions.

Perarivalan said the President failed to consider the parameters for deciding the mercy petition. There was a delay of 11 years to decide the plea; he was in solitary confinement for more than 20 years and that he was 19 years old when he was arrested. Whether he was directly or indirectly involved in the crime was not considered. The delay in taking a decision on the mercy plea was “unwarranted, illegal and unconstitutional.”

Murugan and Santhan said the question raised in the present petitions was whether because of the supervening events after the Supreme Court's decision, viz, the delay of 11 years in deciding the mercy plea, the infliction of the most extreme penalty in the circumstances of the case violated Article 21 of the Constitution (Protection of life and personal liberty), even if the death sentence was justly imposed at the time of judgment. They had sent reminders seeking an early decision on the mercy petitions. They also said they were in jail for more than 20 years – more than 12 of which were after the sentence of death was confirmed by the Supreme Court.

The petitioners said jurisprudence on this issue had already been clearly developed by the Supreme Court. The consistent position adopted was that if the delay in deciding the mercy petition was shown to be excessive and unjustified in the facts of the case, execution of death sentence would amount to harsh and inhuman punishment violating Article 21 and that the court should commute the death sentence.

The petitioners said they had been leading a very disciplined and orderly life in prison assisting fellow prisoners and officials alike. “Through our conduct, all the three of us have exhibited concern for the welfare of others less fortunate than us by teaching them life skills, entertaining prisoners, thereby relieving prisoners from the ennui of prison life and tending to their social, emotional and spiritual needs. It would be in the fitness of things therefore that our lives be spared from the gallows, as we have demonstrated that we are capable of leading lives with responsibility and service to society.”