Back to top

Disappearance of human rights defender RS Mugilan in Tamil Nadu

Status: 
In custody
About the situation

On 6 July 2019, human rights defender Shanmugam Thangasamy, better known as RS Mugilan, was seen by a friend in the custody of the Railway Police Force on Platform 1 of the Thirupathi Railway Station in Andhra Pradesh. RS Mugilan disappeared on 15 February 2019 on his way from Chennai to Madurai. He was last seen at the Chennai Egmore Railway Station after co-organising a press conference related to the killing of 13 protestors at a demonstration that took place in May 2018.

As of 28 March 2018, human rights defender RS Mugilan has been missing for nearly six weeks. On 18 March 2019, the Additional Superintendent of Police of the Crime Branch of the Crime Investigation Department (CB-CID) in Villupuram, Tamil Nadu, filed a status report on the investigation into the disappearance of RS Mugilan at the High Court of Judicature in Madras.

As of 4 March 2019, human rights defender Shanmugam Thangasamy, better known as RS Mugilan, remains missing. On 15 February 2019, RS Mugilan disappeared while on his way from Chennai to Madurai. He was last seen at the Chennai Egmore Railway Station after having co-organised a press conference relating to the killing of 13 protestors at a demonstration in May 2018.   

About RS Mugilan

RS MugilanRS Mugilan is a human rights defender from Chennai and the Coordinator of the Tamil Nadu Environment Protection Committee. He has worked tirelessly on environmental issues in Tamil Nadu, opposing such issues as illegal sand mining and nuclear power. He has most recently been involved with the Anti-Sterlite Movement, which opposes a copper plant in Thoothukudi set up by copper-smelting company Sterlite Industries (India) Limited, a subsidiary of the UK-based company, Vedanta Resources. The human rights defender had been part of the fact-finding team to Thoothukudi and it is believed that his disappearance is linked to this line of work.

15 July 2019
Disappeared human rights defender Mugilan found in custody of Railway Police

On 6 July 2019, human rights defender Shanmugam Thangasamy, better known as RS Mugilan, was seen by a friend in the custody of the Railway Police Force on Platform 1 of the Thirupathi Railway Station in Andhra Pradesh. RS Mugilan disappeared on 15 February 2019 on his way from Chennai to Madurai. He was last seen at the Chennai Egmore Railway Station after co-organising a press conference related to the killing of 13 protestors at a demonstration that took place in May 2018.

Download the Urgent Appeal

RS Mugilan is a human rights defender from Chennai and the Coordinator of the Tamil Nadu Environment Protection Committee. He has most recently been involved with the Anti-Sterlite Movement, which opposes a copper plant in Thoothukudi set up by the copper-smelting company Sterlite Industries (India) Limited (Sterlite), a subsidiary of the UK-based company, Vedanta Resources. The human rights defender was part of the fact-finding team investigating the violence that broke out during the anti-Sterlite protests in Thoothukudi on 22 May 2018, during which police shot and killed 13 persons.

RS Mugilan was last seen on 15 February 2019 at around 11.18 pm, at the Chennai Egmore Railway Station on Platform 2. The human rights defender had spoken at a press conference in Chennai earlier that day, during which he openly accused the police of conspiring with Sterlite to disrupt the peaceful protest and called for the arrest of police officers involved in the shooting. It is believed that Mugilan’s disappearance the same day is linked to his activism and allegations against the police. At the time of his disappearance, Front Line Defenders issued an appeal calling for an immediate and thorough investigation into his whereabouts and expressing concern for his safety. A habeas corpus case relating to RS Mugilan’s enforced disappearance was filed by human rights defender Henri Tiphagne before the Madras High Court, which is currently pending.

On 6 July 2019, at around 7 pm, RS Mugilan was seen by a friend, who recognised him on platform 1 of Thirupathi railway station in the custody of uniformed police officers. The friend immediately informed RS Mugilan’s family and Henri Tiphagne. The latter, who received the information of RS Mugilan’s sighting at around 7.45 pm, immediately informed the Director General of the Tamil Nadu Police about it and requested that the human rights defender be transferred to the custody of the Tamil Nadu police with immediate effect.

Subsequent media reports indicate that RS Mugilan was seen protesting at the railway platform of the Thirupathi Railways Station as early as 10.40 am on 6 July. There is no information on what transpired during the period between 10.40 am and 7 pm, when RS Mugilan was seen by his friend. Video footage of an extremely tired and ill-looking RS Mugilan is also being circulated, where he is seen to be shouting slogans on environmental rights in Tamil Nadu while being escorted by police in uniform. Accounts from his family and colleagues confirm that RS Mugilan is in ill health. There is no information on the source of this video or who shared it with the media.

On the night of 6 July 2019, RS Mugilan was transferred to the custody of the Crime Branch of the Crime Investigation Department (CB-CID) and produced before a magistrate the following day. RS Mugilan has requested and been granted immediate medical treatment. He remains in the custody of the CB-CID on account of a First Information Report that was filed several weeks after his disappearance that accuses him of committing rape and sexual violence.

Front Line Defenders is extremely relieved that Mugilan has been seen alive at the Thirupathi Railway Station on 6 July 2019, almost five months after his disappearance. However, we remain seriously concerned for his safety, physical and mental well-being, and about the lack of transparency and due process relating to his custody by the Andhra Pradesh Railway Police Force and his current incarceration at the hands of the CB-CID of Tamil Nadu. We believe that RS Mugilan has been targetted due to his peaceful and legitimate work in defense of human rights.

 

 

28 March 2019
Police file status report on disappearance of RS Mugilan

As of 28 March 2018, human rights defender RS Mugilan has been missing for nearly six weeks. On 18 March 2019, the Additional Superintendent of Police of the Crime Branch of the Crime Investigation Department (CB-CID) in Villupuram, Tamil Nadu, filed a status report on the investigation into the disappearance of RS Mugilan at the High Court of Judicature in Madras.

RS Mugilan is a human rights defender from Chennai and the Coordinator of the Tamil Nadu Environment Protection Committee, who has worked tirelessly on environmental issues. Most recently, he has been involved with the Anti-Sterlite Movement, which opposes a copper plant in Thoothukudi set up by copper-smelting company Sterlite Industries (India) Limited, a subsidiary of the UK-based company, Vedanta Resources. The human rights defender had been part of the fact-finding team to Thoothukudi and it is believed that his disappearance is linked to this line of work.

Immediately following the disappearance of RS Mugilan on 15 February 2019, it was unclear whether the human rights defender had returned to Egmore Railway Station after he had left it at around 10pm. However, the police status report indicates that RS Mugilan later returned to the station, as it refers to CCTV footage which shows the human rights defender standing on Platform 2 at 11.18pm. According to RS Mugilan’s mobile phone records, his last communications (via SMS) took place between 00.39 and 00.42 on 16 February.

The status report also details further actions that the police have taken so far, which includes information about dozens of police teams having been sent to assist the investigation. The teams interviewed and recorded statements from witnesses, family members, associates, and friends, and distributed flyers and posters. As of 15 March 2019, the police have interviewed 251 people, none of whom have named anyone that may have been involved in the disappearance of RS Mugilan.

 

4 March 2019
Disappearance of human rights defender RS Mugilan in Tamil Nadu

As of 4 March 2019, human rights defender Shanmugam Thangasamy, better known as RS Mugilan, remains missing. On 15 February 2019, RS Mugilan disappeared while on his way from Chennai to Madurai. He was last seen at the Chennai Egmore Railway Station after having co-organised a press conference relating to the killing of 13 protestors at a demonstration in May 2018.

Download the Urgent Appeal

RS Mugilan is a human rights defender from Chennai and the Coordinator of the Tamil Nadu Environment Protection Committee. He has worked tirelessly on environmental issues in Tamil Nadu, opposing such issues as illegal sand mining and nuclear power. He has most recently been involved with the Anti-Sterlite Movement, which opposes a copper plant in Thoothukudi set up by copper-smelting company Sterlite Industries (India) Limited, a subsidiary of the UK-based company, Vedanta Resources. The human rights defender had been part of the fact-finding team to Thoothukudi and it is believed that his disappearance is linked to this line of work.

At 11.30am on 15 February 2019, RS Mugilan took part in a press conference, which he had co-organised, at the Chennai Press Club. Its purpose was to discuss the violence that broke out during the anti-Sterlite protests in Thoothukudi on 22 May 2018, at which police shot and killed 13 persons.

At the press conference, RS Mugilan released a 46-minute-long documentary entitled, Koluthiyathu Yaar? Maraikkapatta Unmaigal (Arsonists - Sterlite - The Hidden Truths). The documentary claimed that the police—in collaboration with officials from Sterlite Industries—had allowed a number of individuals, who RS Mugilan believe were hired by Sterlite, to disrupt the protest. The group set fire to bicycles and damaged CCTV cameras around the area in which the shooting subsequently took place. In the documentary, the human rights defender demanded that police officers involved in the shooting be arrested. He named high-level police officials, including the then-Inspector General of Police, Mr Shailesh Kumar Yadav, and Deputy Inspector General of Police Mr Kapil Kumar Saratkar as being complicit in orchestrating the incident.

After the press conference, at around 6.30pm, RS Mugilan made a call to his friend, who is the Tamil Nadu State Focal point and Regional Coordinator of Human Rights Defenders’ Alert – India (HRDA) for South India. In the call, RS Mugilan told his friend that he had received threats and that he was worried about police action against him following the allegations he made against high-level police officials.

At around 9.30pm on 15 February, RS Mugilan informed his friend via SMS that he had arrived at the Chennai Egmore Railway Station to catch the Nagercoil Express train to Madurai. He also arranged to meet with his friend in Madurai the next morning. However, when the friend called RS Mugilan at 6am on 16 February 2019, the human rights defender could not be reached as his phone was turned off. CCTV footage from the station shows RS Mugilan walking out of Egmore Railway Station after 10pm, but there is no further information about his whereabouts and also no indication of whether he in fact boarded the train. According to fellow human rights defenders, RS Mugilan’s phone was last connected at Olukkur in Villupuram District.

On 18 February 2019, fearing that RS Mugilan had been forcibly disappeared for his claims at the press conference, People’s Watch submitted a habeas corpus petition to the Madras High Court, after their complaints about RS Mugilan’s suspected abduction to the Chief Minister’s office and the Tamil Nadu Director General of Police (DGP) were not acted upon. The Madras High Court proceeded to direct the Commissioner of Police, Chennai and the Superintendents of Police of Kanchipuram and Villupuram districts to submit a response by 22 February 2019. Since then, Tamil Nadu police have registered a “missing person” report.

On 25 February 2019, the Tamil Nadu Director General of Police (DGP) issued an order to transfer the case to the Crime Branch of the Crime Investigation Department (CB-CID) for further investigation.

This is not the first time that RS Mugilan has been targetted for his peaceful work in defence of human rights. In March 2012, the human rights defender was illegally detained by police for three days in relation to his involvement in exposing illegal sand mining in Koodankulam. In September 2017, he was arrested once again for his work on the same issue and was only released in September 2018 after his lawyer obtained bail.

Front Line Defenders is gravely concerned about the disappearance of human rights defender RS Mugilan and believes that his disappearance is in retaliation for his involvement in investigating and denouncing the human rights violations linked to Sterlite Industries’ copper plant. Front Line Defenders expresses further concern over the lack of a safe and enabling environment in India for human rights defenders to carry out their valuable work.