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30 Jan, 2024 14:56

Fifteen Indians handed death sentences over political killing

A court in the southern state of Kerala has convicted a group of men linked to the murder of a Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) regional leader
Fifteen Indians handed death sentences over political killing

A court in southern India’s Kerala state on Tuesday handed the death penalty to 15 people linked to the murder of a senior politician from the Prime Minister Narendra Modi-led Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Ranjith Sreenivasan, a lawyer by profession, was killed in plain view of his family in the town of Alappuzha on December 19, 2021.

The convicted men are all linked to the Popular Front of India (PFI) and activists of its political wing, the Social Democratic Party of India (SDPI). The PFI was banned by the Indian government in 2022, citing “terror-related activities.”

Twelve of the accused were convicted under Section 302 (murder) with Section 149 (unlawful assembly offense) of the Indian Penal Code. The rest were found guilty under Section 302 with Section 120B (criminal conspiracy).

Indian media reports state that the prosecution discovered a “hit list” prepared by SDPI-PFI activists, with Sreenivasan’s name at the top. Ranjith, the BJP candidate from Alappuzha in the 2016 state elections, held key party positions in subsequent years. The ruling party traditionally struggles in the state, dominated by Communist parties, and lacks representation in the assembly.

Notably, Sreenivasan was killed shortly after the brutal murder of SDPI leader K. S. Shan in Alappuzha. The assailants, allegedly linked to the BJP and RSS, attacked Shan while he was riding a two-wheeler. Eleven RSS members have been charged in Shan’s case, and the trial is pending. The back-to-back murders sparked protests urging law enforcement to enhance vigilance across the state.

BJP leader and Union Minister of State for External Affairs V. Muraleedharan reacted to the verdict and said he was “grateful to the judiciary” for delivering justice. Media have quoted Ranjith’s wife as hailing the court verdict as “relief” for the family.

A study conducted by the National Law University Delhi found that till December 2022, 539 prisoners were on death row in India. In 2018, New Delhi voted against a United Nations General Assembly’s (UNGA) draft resolution on the abolition of the death penalty. The latest Indians to have been executed were four men found guilty in a 2012 Delhi gang rape and murder case. They were hanged at the Tihar Jail in the Indian capital in March 2020.

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