A lower court in Kerala’s Alappuzha district on Tuesday, January 30, awarded the death penalty to 14 accused in the murder of Bharatiya Janata Party leader Ranjith Sreenivasan in 2021. It is for the first time in Kerala that so many people have been given capital punishment for the same crime. The court did not sentence accused No 10 Navas, who is hospitalised, to death as he was not heard on the question of sentence. The order was pronounced by Mavelikkara Additional session court judge Sreedevi VG.
The court had found the convicts, associated with Popular Front of India (PFI) and Social Democratic Party of India (SDPI), guilty on January 20, 2023.
Ranjith, a lawyer and BJP’s OBC Morcha state secretary, was attacked and killed by the members of PFI and SDPI at his house at Vellakkinar junction in Alappuzha on December 19, 2021. The 15 convicted are, Naisam, Ajmal, Anoop, Mohammed Aslam, Salam Ponnad, Abdul Kalam, Munshad, Saffaruddin, Jaseeb Raja, Navas, Sameer, Nazir, Zakir Hussain, Shaji and Shernas Ashraf. Among them, eight were found to be directly involved in the murder. The rest were convicted of criminal conspiracy.
The accused went absconding after the murder. The police obtained CCTV footage of the 12-member gang arriving in six two-wheelers. On December 22, 2021, a Special Investigation Team was formed under the leadership of Alappuzha DYSP NR Jayaraj.
On March 18, 2022, police arrested all the 15 suspects and the chargesheet was submitted. The trial in the case was transferred from Alappuzha to Mavelikara Court based on a High Court order. There were 156 prosecution witnesses in this case and the hearing was completed on December 15, 2023.
The prosecution contended that the SDPI-PFI workers were a “trained killer squad” and sought maximum punishment for the accused due to the manner in which Ranjith was killed in front of his mother, infant, and wife. They said the crime would fall within the ambit of the "rarest of the rare" crimes. A hit list, in which Ranjith was the first target, was discovered from the mobile phone seized from the third accused, Anoop.
According to reports, Ranjith was murdered by the PFI-SDPI workers a few hours after SDPI State Secretary KS Shan was murdered by Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) members in Alappuzha to avenge the murder of another party worker. Five suspects were arrested in this case.
On September 28, 2022, PFI and eight affiliate organisations were banned by the union government under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act (UAPA), 1967 for allegedly “indulging in unlawful activities, which are prejudicial to the integrity, sovereignty and security of the country and have the potential of disturbing public peace and communal harmony of the country.”