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Kerala: Fifteen men sentenced to death for murder of BJP leader

A court in the southern Indian state of Kerala has sentenced 15 men to death for the murder of a local leader from the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

Ranjith Sreenivasan was killed in front of his family members in 2021 in what was described as a tit-for-tat murder.

Police said that the 15 convicts were affiliated with the Popular Front of India (PFI), a controversial Muslim group banned in 2022.

The men can appeal against the sentences in a higher court.

A sessions court in Kerala’s Alappuzha district had convicted the men on 20 January.

On Tuesday, after the death penalty was awarded, Sreenivasan’s wife Lisha said that while their loss was “irreparable”, the verdict came as a relief.

Sreenivasan was hacked to death at his home in Alappuzha on 19 December 2021 in front of his mother, wife and daughter.

Police found during the investigation that eight of the 15 convicts were directly involved in the murder while others stood guard with weapons outside the house.

Some of the men were members of the PFI while others belonged to its political unit, the Social Democratic Party of India (SDPI). In 2022, the BJP-led federal government banned PFI for five years for alleged links with terror groups.

Sreenivasan’s murder occurred hours after the killing of KS Shan, an SDPI leader in Alappuzha. An investigation report had said that Shan was murdered to avenge the killing of an activist from the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the ideological fountainhead of the Hindu nationalist BJP.

A police chargesheet filed a few months after Shan’s murder named 21 people. Police said they had arrested five RSS workers for the murder who later got bail. Trial in the case is scheduled to begin next month.

The back-to-back murders of Sreenivasan and Shan had shocked the people of Kerala and made national headlines.