Bengaluru/New Delhi: 19 February 2019 2:49 pm
Authorities in Tamil Nadu must take all measures necessary to investigate the fate and whereabouts of environmental activist S Mugilan, who has been missing since 15 February, Amnesty India said today.
On 15 February, Mugilan, an environmental activist, held a press conference in Chennai in which he accused senior Tamil Nadu police officials of colluding with officials of Sterlite Industries to orchestrate violence in Thotthukudi during protests in May 2018 against a copper plant operated by Sterlite. 13 protestors were shot dead by the police on 22 May 2018.
Mugilan had telephoned a colleague before boarding a train from Chennai to Madurai on 15 February. He told the colleague that he feared being targeted by the police, and asked for a complaint to be filed if he did not reach Madurai the next day. Mugilan’s family, colleagues and friends have not heard from him since.
“From protesting against polluting factories to exposing illegal sand mining cartels, Mugilan has always fought fearlessly for justice in Tamil Nadu. His disappearance raises worrying questions about his safety. The Tamil Nadu government must ensure that they do everything possible to find him,” said Aakar Patel from Amnesty India.
Henri Tiphagne, National Secretary of Human Rights Defenders’ Alert – India, told Amnesty India, “The Tamil Nadu police have not been very cooperative so far. That is why we had to file a habeas corpus petition in the high court. This is another example of how dangerous it has become for activists in the state.”
On 18 February, the Madras High Court asked the Commissioner of Police, Chennai and the Superintendents of Police of Kanchipuram and Villupuram districts, to respond in four days to a petition filed by human rights organisations on Mugilan’s disappearance. The Tamil Nadu police have registered a ‘missing person’ First Information Report.
“The Tamil Nadu government must ensure that dissenting voices in the state are protected, and that human rights defenders, activists, journalists and lawyers can work without fear,” said Aakar Patel.
Several environmental activists in Tamil Nadu have been unfairly arrested and detained in recent years. Following the Thoothukudi violence, six protestors were placed in administrative detention. S Mugilan has himself been arrested on previous occasions, and faces two cases of ‘sedition’ under a colonial-era law which violates international human rights standards.