15 members of the now-banned Popular Front of India (PFI) were sentenced to death by a court in Kerala’s Mavelikara on Tuesday, for the murder of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader Ranjith Sreenivasan in 2021.
It is the first of the cases in Kerala wherein all the accused have been sentenced to death, by Mavelikkara additional district judge V G Sreedevi saying that they were a “trained killer squad” and hence the prosecution sought the maximum sentence over “the cruel and diabolical manner in which the victim was killed in front”.
The accused were present in the court when the verdict convicting them for being involved in the murder of BJP’s Ranjith Sreenivas at his home in Alappuzha on the morning of December 19, 2021, was pronounced, while one was in hospital.
The murder of state secretary of OBC Morcha Sreenivasan, 40, was allegedly a retaliatory killing which came a day after K.S. Shan, state secretary of PFI’s political arm Social Democratic Party of India (SDPI) was murdered by suspected Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) members in the Alappuzha district.
Police have said that the BJP leader’s mother, wife, and younger daughter witnessed Sreenivasan being hacked to death by a 12-member gang with sharp weapons.
The 15 accused, identified as Naisam, Ajmal, Anoop, Mohammad Aslam, Salam, Saffaruddin, Abdul Kalam, Manshad, Jaseeb Raja, Navas, Sameer, Nazir, Zakir Hussain, Shaji and Shernas Ashraf, were convicted under Section 302 (murder) of the Indian Penal Code (IPC) among other offences including criminal conspiracy and criminal trespass.
All the 15 accused in the case, were convicted by the court on January 20, making it the first such case in the state in which so many have been handed capital punishment at one go.
“The prosecution argued that this is a rarest of the rare case as Sreenivasan was brutally attacked in front of his elderly mother and wife. There were over 56 cuts on his body. So, all the accused deserve the maximum punishment u/s 302 which can be imprisonment for life or the death sentence,” the special public prosecutor Prathap G Padickal said.
Sreenivasan’s family was present at the court and welcomed the order. His wife, Lisha Ranjith said, “This is indeed a rarest of rare case and our loss is immense. This cannot be dismissed as just another murder. It was me, (his) mother and our children who saw how they killed him”.
The court earlier observed that the first eight accused directly participated in the murder, while four others waited at the gate on their bikes that were used as getaway vehicles.
As per the reports, 156 witnesses testified during the trial and the prosecution produced over 1,000 documents and 100 material objects in the court.
The retaliatory strikes had sent shockwaves through the southern Kerala town otherwise known for its pristine nature. In response to the escalating tensions, district authorities had implemented stringent prohibitory orders, effectively trying to calm the potential unrest for about two days.
Meanwhile, two years have passed since the charge sheet was filed in the Shan murder case, but the trial has been dragging on while all the 13 accused have been granted bail. The government recently appointed P.P. Harris as the new public prosecutor in the face of public criticism. The Alappuzha sessions court is scheduled to commence the hearings on February 2.