Alappuzha: A Kerala court on Tuesday sentenced to death 14 persons associated with the now-banned Islamist outfit Popular Front of India (PFI) in connection with the murder of BJP OBC wing leader Ranjith Sreenivasan in this district in December 2021.
The sentence was pronounced by Mavelikkara Additional District Judge V G Sreedevi.
The prosecution had sought the maximum sentence for the convicts, saying that 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.
It was in December 2021, that Alappuzha witnessed the tragic and violent deaths of 38-year-old K.S. Shan, the State Secretary of the Social Democratic Party of India (SDPI), and 40-year-old Ranjith Sreenivas, a BJP leader. Both individuals fell victim to brutal murders in separate incidents within less than 12 hours.
Shan was the first to be attacked at Kuppezham Junction in Mannancherry on a Saturday night. On the same night, Sreenivas, the State Secretary of the BJP’s OBC Morcha, and a lawyer were assaulted at his home in Vellakinar.
Despite arguments from the defence asserting that the case did not meet the criteria for the rarest of rare categories justifying capital punishment, the court disagreed, declaring it to be such. On January 20, the court convicted all 15 under Section 302 (murder) of the Indian Penal Code. Among the 15 who got convicted in the case, 12 were found to have directly participated in the act.
Among them, the first eight accused, who entered the victim’s house, received a life sentence in addition to the death penalty. They were found guilty under Sections 302 (murder), 149 (unlawful assembly), 449 (house trespass to commit an offense punishable with death), 506 (criminal intimidation), and 341 (wrongful restraint) of the Indian Penal Code.
The killing of RSS worker Nandukrishna, allegedly carried out by SDPI members at Vayalar in Alappuzha on February 24, 2021, is seen as the triggering incident for Shan’s murder and subsequently Sreenivas’s murder. These ‘communally tinged political killings’ had raised concerns about a potential communal escalation in Kerala back in 2021.
The chargesheet for both Shan and Sreenivas murders was submitted on the same day by the police. However, the trial for the Shan murder case is yet to commence. The expected start date for the trial is February 2 but it faced delays due to issues in appointing special prosecutors. The first two special prosecutors in the case withdrew, and the latest one—Adv P.P. Haris—was appointed only last week.