NEW DELHI, Dec 1, Reuter: Satwant Singh and Kehar Singh convicted in the 1984 assassination of Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi won a temporary reprive on Thursday 14 hours before they were due to be executed.

Lawyers for Satwant Singh and Kehar Singh lost one legal bid in the Delhi High Court earlier on Thursday to stay the execution which was to have taken place in the capital’s Tihar Maximum Security jail on Friday morning.

But they then raced to India’s highest judicial body, the Supreme Court, minutes before it was to adjourn for the day.

The Supreme Court agreed to accept their petitions and set Tuesday for the hearings, which are expected to last at least a day.

Security forces throughout Northern India had been put on alert to prevent reprisals after the hangings. Militants fighting for an Independent Homeland for India’s 16 million Sikhs have vowed revenge if the executions take place.

Kehar Singh’s Lawyer, Ram Jethamalani barged into the Supreme Court as it was nearing the end of a hearing connected to the 1984 Bhopal Gas Disaster.

“It is of utmost urgency,” he said, “My client is to be hanged at 8 a.m. tomorrow.

The court agreed to listen to his arguments and as he spoke he was joined by lawyers for Satwant Singh.

Jethmalani, an opposition member of parliament argued that his client’s mercy petition had been improperly dismissed by President Ranaswamy Venkataraman.

He also asked the court to clarify the use of the head of state’s discretionary powers of clemency.

Jethmalani, visibly relieved after winning the delay, told reporters: “The more the government shows its enthusiasm for hanging a person, the more it stinks.”

Satwant Singh’s Lawyer, RS. Sohi, said his client was willing to hang but wanted first to put on record his own account of events which followed the death of Gandhi.

Satwant Singh, a former policeman who was a member of Gandhi’s personal security force, was convicted of gunning down the Prime Minister at her Delhi home on October 31, 1984.

“We are very happy,” said Kehar Singh’s son Rajinder.

“My father is in very high spirits. He told my younger brother yesterday that there was nothing left for him to do to stop the hanging.”

Gandhi was shot dead in 1984 four months after she ordered the Indian army to storm the Golden Temple in Amritsar, Sikhdon’s holiest shrine. More than 6,000 people were killed in the attack.

Article extracted from this publication >> December 9, 1988