Tamil Nadu Congress Committee leader KS Alagiri on Saturday said that only the court can decide whether the seven convicts in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case can be released, adding that political parties seeking their release was unacceptable, PTI reported.

The Congress leader’s assertions came amid a renewed push by political parties, including its key ally the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam, for release of the convicts. The plea of one of the accused, AG Perarivalan, is pending with the governor for over two years.

But Alagiri said only the judiciary should decide on the remission of their sentences. In a statement, the Congress leader said that if the accused in the Rajiv Gandhi were to be set free, a demand would arise for the release of all “murder convicts” who have spent over 25 years in prison.

“If the court decides to release all the seven life convicts, we will accept it,” he added. “However, it is not acceptable for the political parties to seek their release. Those who committed the murder should be seen as murderers and not as Tamilians.”

Alagiri said it was not in the culture of Tamil Nadu to “support murderers”. “If we start a movement to release the murderers, then it will mean that there is no need for police stations and court or to speak about the law and order,” his statement said. “Hence, it was not Tamil culture to support the murderers who killed the former prime minister.”

Former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi was killed in Sriperumbudur on May 21, 1991, when an operative of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam named Gayatri set off an RDX-laden belt she wore under her belt. The LTTE was seeking revenge for the Indian government’s decision to send troops to Sri Lanka to help the island-country fight the Tamil separatists.

In 1998, 26 people were sentenced to death for the conspiracy, but a year later the Supreme Court upheld the death sentences of only four of them – Nalini, Murugan, Santhan and Perarivalan. Three others were sentenced to life imprisonment and the remaining 19 were freed. In 2000, Nalini’s death sentence was commuted to life imprisonment.

On November 4, the Supreme Court had expressed its unhappiness over the pendency of Perarivalan’s plea. A bench of Justices L Nageswara Rao, Hemant Gupta and Ajay Rastogi said, “We don’t want to exercise our jurisdiction at this stage but we are not happy that recommendation made by the government is pending for two years.”

A day later, DMK chief and Leader of the Opposition in Tamil Nadu MK Stalin wrote to Governor Banwarilal Purohit, urging him to to accept the recommendation of the state Cabinet and remit the life sentence of all the convicts. Stalin said the convicts had been “undergoing the agony of imprisonment” for more than three decades.

The politician referred to Article 161 of the Indian Constitution that gives the governor the power to suspend, remit or commute any sentence of a person convicted of an offence under any law. “This important recommendation has been kept pending without taking decision by your excellency for over two years which has been causing grave and irreparable hardship to the said convicts,” Stalin had said.

Besides the DMK chief, several other political parties, activists and organisations have demanded an early release of the seven life convicts in the past.