India's apex court is set to hear pleas to commute the death sentences of three people convicted of the assassination of former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi.

The three - Murugan, Santhan and Perarivalan - have pleaded for their death sentences to be commuted on the ground that there had been an inordinate delay in disposing of their mercy petitions.

The Supreme Court had confirmed their death sentences in 2000 and the then-Indian President Pratibha Patil had rejected their mercy petitions in 2011.

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The three have argued that the delay in the disposal of their mercy pleas by 11 years and four months made their death sentence “unduly harsh and excessive” and violates the right to life under the Indian Constitution.

The case comes in the wake of a recent Supreme Court order on January 21 that said death sentences can be commuted in cases where there has been an inordinate delay in deciding mercy petitions. 

In 1998 a local court had sentenced 26 people to death over the assassination of Gandhi on May 21, 1991, by a Sri Lankan Tamil suicide bomber in the southern state of Tamil Nadu.

The case reached the Supreme Court which confirmed capital punishments for four in 2000 ­­- Nalini, Murugan, Santhan and Perarivalan.

Following a recommendation by the state cabinet and an appeal by Rajiv's widow Sonia Gandhi, Nalini’s death sentence was commuted to life imprisonment by the Tamil Nadu governor in 2000.

Source: Al Jazeera