Alappuzha | A Kerala court on Tuesday sentenced to death 15 people associated with the now-banned outfit Popular Front of India (PFI) in connection with the murder of BJP OBC wing leader Ranjith Sreenivasan in this district in 2021, the special prosecutor of the case said here.
The sentence was pronounced by Mavelikkara Additional Sessions Judge -I V G Sreedevi. There was "absolute justification" in giving capital punishment to all the accused persons in this case, the court said.
"It is true that there are no records to show that the accused persons were convicted earlier. The most important aspect is that the heinous crime was committed in the comfort zone ie., in the house of the victim, in the presence of his mother, wife and minor child .... all showing the brutality of the crime," it said.
According to special prosecutor Prathap G Padickal, although 14 out of the total of 15 persons convicted in the case were produced before the court on Tuesday, the judge orally stated that the sentence would also apply to the convict who was not produced today.
When the remaining convict, who is currently hospitalised due to an illness, is produced in court, the sentence against him will be pronounced, he said.
The convict in the case are Naisam, Ajmal, Anoop, Muhammed Aslam, Abdul Kalam, Abdul Kalam, Sarafudheen, Manshad, Jaseeb Raja, Navas, Sameer, Naseer, Sakeer Hussain, Shaji and Shernas Asharaf.
Sreenivasan, a lawyer and the BJP OBC Morcha state secretary, was brutally attacked and killed in his home on December 19, 2021, in front of his family, by activists affiliated with PFI and Social Democratic Party of India (SDPI).
In the 282-page verdict, the court said, "an overall evaluation of the facts and circumstances of this case, which is a case with direct evidence with three occurrence witnesses and the recoveries effected proved that the weapons as well as vehicles use contain blood, and DNA profiling proved that those blood stains are of the victim advocate."
"So, there is absolute justification for imposing capital punishment for all the accused persons in this case," the court said.
"Since the 10th accused is hospitalised, he was not heard on the question of sentence. Hence, his case is split up", it further said.
The court observed that it was a planned murder and the preparations might have started months ago.
"So, I am of the view that the defenseless victim had never provoked the accused and the commission of offence was a premeditated one", it said.
The court said the only mitigating circumstance, the age of the accused, would not be balanced with the aggravating circumstances already pointed out, the court said.
The court also considered the state report which showed that the accused persons are hardcore criminals and there is no chance for reformation.
The probability that the accused can be reformed and rehabilitated is little, the court observed citing that "they have never shown any repentance for what they have done in this case."
"So, the chance of reformation and rehabilitation cannot be considered as a mitigating circumstance in this case," the court said.
The family of the slain leader and the BJP welcomed the judgement, with the saffron party hailing Sreenivasan as a "great martyr" who got justice today.
"This was an exceptionally rare case, and our loss is immense. We express our gratitude to the prosecution and investigating officers for conducting a thorough and honest investigation into the incident, ultimately resulting in the imposition of the maximum punishment," Sreenivasan's wife told reporters.
State Police Chief Sheikh Darvesh Sahib expressed satisfaction with the verdict. In a statement, he commended all the officers who worked on the investigation and said they will be rewarded.
The case was handled by a team led by Former Alappuzha District Police Chief G Jayadev who is currently serving as Deputy Commissioner of VIP Security Division.
The prosecution had sought the maximum sentence for the convicts, saying they were a "trained killer squad" and the cruel and diabolical manner in which the victim was killed in front of his mother, infant, and wife brings it within the ambit of the "rarest of the rarest" of crimes.
The BJP also welcomed the verdict.
"Grateful to the judiciary for delivering justice to the family of Ranjith Sreenivasan Ji, who was brutally killed by PFI terrorists. This verdict has once again exposed the deep-rooted connections between terrorist elements and the ruling Kerala Government, which opposed the Government of India's ban of PFI", senior BJP leader and Union Minister V Muraleedharan said in a post on X.
"This verdict also vindicated the stance of @BJP4India and the Government of @narendramodi Ji that banned PFI, which has become a threat to the nation's unity and integrity", he said.
According to the prosecutor, the court found that out of the 15, accused one to eight were directly involved in the case.
It also found four men (Accused number nine to 12) guilty of murder because they, along with those directly involved in the crime, came to the spot armed with deadly weapons.
Their objective was to prevent Sreenivasan from escaping and stop anyone entering the house after hearing his screams.
The court had accepted the prosecution's argument that they were also liable for the common offense of murder under IPC Section 149 (Every member of unlawful assembly guilty of offence committed in prosecution of common object), Padickal said.
The court found three persons (Accused number 13 to 15) who hatched the conspiracy guilty of murder.
As a result, the court had found all the 15 accused in the case guilty of murder. They were convicted on January 20.
They were also found guilty under various other sections of the Indian Penal Code.
Kerala BJP chief K Surendran said, "Finally truth prevails-- Ranjith Sreenivasan, the great martyr got justice today...we are happy with the judgement."
Trial courts across the country have awarded death sentences to multiple convicts in several cases in the last two decades. Following are some of them:
* Jan 30, 2024: A Kerala court sentenced to death 15 people associated with the now-banned Islamist outfit Popular Front of India (PFI) in connection with the 2021 murder of BJP OBC wing leader Ranjith Sreenivasan.
* Feb 2022: A Sessions Court in Ahmedabad sentenced to death 38 people for their involvement in a 2008 Ahmedabad serial blasts case. Their appeals and confirmation of the death sentence are pending before the Gujarat High Court.
* Dec 2016: A Special National Investigation Agency (NIA) Court sentenced to death Indian Mujahideen co-founder Yasin Bhatkal and four others in the 2013 Hyderabad blasts case. Their appeals and confirmation of the death sentence are pending before the Hyderabad High Court.
* Apr 2014: Mumbai court sentenced to death three convicts for raping a photojournalist inside an abandoned textile mill in 2013. The Bombay High Court commuted to life imprisonment the death penalty in November 2021.
* Sep 2013: Four men were sentenced to death in the 2012 Delhi gang rape and murder case. They were hanged to death in Tihar Jail in March 2021.
* Mar 2011: A special court sentenced to death 11 convicts in the Godhra Train burning case. The Gujarat High Court commuted their death sentences to rigorous life imprisonment in October 2017. Against the high court's order, the State filed an appeal to the Supreme Court, which is currently pending.
* Jul 2007: A special TADA court sentenced to death 12 convicts in the 1993 Mumbai serial blasts case. The Supreme Court commuted the death sentence of 10 convicts to life imprisonment while upholding the sentence against Yakub Memon in March 2013. He was hanged in Nagpur Central Jail on July 30, 2015.
* In 2022, Gujarat saw a sharp rise in trial courts giving capital punishment with 50 people being sentenced to death till August compared to 46 between 2006 and 2021, according to the data available with courts in the state.