Rajiv Gandhi murder: India court stays release of four plotters

Rajiv Gandhi Image copyright Press Information Bureau
Image caption Rajiv Gandhi's murder was seen as retaliation for sending Indian peacekeepers to Sri Lanka in 1987

India's Supreme Court has suspended the planned release of four people convicted of involvement in the 1991 murder of former PM Rajiv Gandhi.

Last week it stayed the release of three other plotters, after the Tamil Nadu government ordered the release of all seven convicted in connection with the assassination.

The six men and a woman were members of Sri Lanka's Tamil Tiger rebel group.

A Tamil Nadu court opted to free them but the government challenged the move.

The court said it would rule on 6 March on who had the authority to decide whether or not to free the convicts.

"Our intention is not to stop the release. We will lay down guidelines. Every state must be aware of rules and procedure to be followed," Chief Justice of India P Sathasivam is quoted as saying.

When it stayed the release of the first three convicts last week, the court cited "procedural lapses" on the part of the Tamil Nadu government.

The central government argues that Tamil Nadu does not have the authority to release the prisoners.

The order to release the convicts came after Murugan, Santhan and Perarivalan had their death sentences commuted because of the exceptional delay in deciding their pleas for mercy. The trio have been in jail for more than 20 years and on death row since 1998.

The remaining four, Robert Pious, Jayakumar, Ravichandran and Nalini, have been serving life sentences.

Gandhi's murder in May 1991 was seen as retaliation for Indian involvement in Sri Lanka's civil war, after peacekeepers were deployed there in 1987.

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