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UA 266/91 - India: death in custody: Mirasdar Shanmugam

, رقم الوثيقة: ASA 20/034/1991

EXTERNAL (for general distribution) AI Index: ASA 20/34/91
Distr: UA/SC
UA 266/91 Death in Custody 2 August 1991
INDIA: Mirasdar SHANMUGAM
Mirasdar Shanmugam was arrested on 17 July 1991 and found dead hanging from
a tree in Vedaranyam, Thanjavur district, Tamil Nadu, three days later. Amnesty
International is concerned that he may have died as a result of torture or
ill-treatment in police custody. Police claim that he committed "suicide" or
that he was killed by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).
Shanmugam, aged 30, was reportedly a well known smuggler with close links
with the LTTE, the main Tamil opposition groups fighting the Sri Lankan
government in the north east of the island. The Indian government believes
the LTTE planned the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi, leader of the Congress
(I) party, on 21 May 1991 in a bomb explosion at an election rally near Madras.
Shanmugam was one of the 14 people so far arrested in connection with Rajiv
Gandhi's murder and he was suspected of providing shelter for Dhanu, the alleged
assassin of Mr Gandhi and her accomplices. A Special Investigation Team (SIT)
from the Central Bureau of Investigation, set up to find those responsible
for the assassination, brought Shanmugam to Vedaranyam on 18 July 1991, one
day after his arrest, to help locate explosives and arms allegedly hidden nearby.
Between 8pm and 9pm on 19 July he is reported to have escaped from a government
lodging house while being escorted by a policeman to wash his hands. His body
was found nearby the following morning hanging from a tree in Rajaji Park in
Vedaranyam.
The body was taken to Nagapattinam government hospital for an autopsy
and post mortem examination. The preliminary post mortem report is said to
state that Shanmugam committed suicide, a version of events which was confirmed
by official sources. SIT sources claimed suicide could have been motivated
by "shame" or fear that his family was in danger from the LTTE. However, according
to a recent report the SIT did not rule out the possibility of murder. Shanmugam
was also reported to be depressed after meeting his uncle during the afternoon
of 19 July; according to police sources, his uncle had criticised him for being
a traitor.
However, many other sources including family members, the family lawyer,
several national newspapers and some opposition politicians have questioned
the finding that Shanmugam committed suicide. They have queried why a prime
suspect in such an important case was not wearing handcuffs, why only one
policeman was guarding him, why he was not shot in the leg which is the normal
practice when police are trying to prevent the escape of a serious offender,
how he found a 15-foot rope strong enough to hang himself so readily at hand
in the middle of the night, why when he was found hanging his legs were touching
the ground, and why he should have sought to escape if, as the SIT claim, he
had provided them with information on the LTTE and feared for his life as a
result. They have also asked why a police combing operation took so long to
find him after his escape, and suggested that local police helped him to escape
and later killed him to prevent him disclosing their illegal activities.
Relatives have alleged that Shanmugam was killed by the police and then
hung from a tree. His wife reportedly sent telegrams to the President and Prime
Minister of India alleging that the SIT had killed her husband. A former
Director-General of Police in Tamil Nadu, Mr K. Mohandas, was quoted in the
2
Hindustan Times, 28 July 1991, as saying: "From what I have read in the papers
and the photographs I have seen, prima facie, it looks like a case of murder
which has been officially covered up as a suicide".
Justifications offered by the SIT for their actions have not convinced
its critics: for example, the SIT have argued that Shanmugam was not handcuffed
as he was "co-operating perfectly", and was not accompanied by an armed guard
as his "pride would be hurt". In addition, the SIT claim that Shanmugam was
"cooperative" during his interrogation is unlikely in
Page 2, UA 266/91...
view of a High Court petition he filed by the deceased prior to his arrest
in early July 1991 in which he complained of harassment, expressed fears that
he might be ill-treated by the police if he was taken into their custody, and
requested that an advocate be present whenever he was questioned by the police.
The petition was still pending when he was arrested.
Mr S. B. Chavan, the central government Home Minister, was reported in
the Indian Express, 27 July 1991, as saying he was not satisfied with the
explanations given by SIT officials and other police officers with reference
to the death and had asked the Additional Director of the Central Bureau of
Investigation to inquire into the incident. A magisterial inquiry has also
been ordered to inquire into the cause of death.
Prior to this incident there had been repeated allegations that others
detained in connection with the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi had been held
in illegal custody and were tortured.
RECOMMENDED ACTIONS: Telegrams and airmail letters:
- expressing concern at reports that Mirasdar Shahmugam who died on 20 July
1991, may have died as the result of torture or ill-treatment in police custody;
- welcoming the announcement of magisterial inquiry and an inquiry by the
Additional Director of the Central Bureau of Investigation. However, urge that
there also be a comprehensive judicial inquiry, preferably under the terms
of the 1952 Commission of Inquiry Act, to establish the facts and circumstances
of the death. Request to be sent copies of the reports of investigations into
the circumstances of his death;
- urging that the methods and findings of the inquiries be published promptly
and in their entirety, that if police personnel are found responsible for causing
the death of Shanmugam, they be brought to justice, and that the family be
granted adequate compensation;
- urging that immediate steps are taken to ensure that those potentially
implicated are removed from positions of control or power over complainants,
witnesses and their relatives as well as over those conducting the inquiries.
APPEALS TO:
Governor of Tamil Nadu
[Salutation: Dear Governor]
Office of the Governor
Madras, India
Telegrams: Tamil Nadu Governor
Madras, India
Ms Jayalalitha Jayaram
Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu
[Salutation: Dear Chief Minister]
Office of the Chief Minister
Madras, India
Telegrams: Chief Minister Tamil
Nadu, Madras, India
COPIES TO:
Mr S. B. Chavan Minister of Home Affairs
Ministry of Home Affairs
North Block
New Delhi 110 001, India
Telexes: 3161879/3161880 FRGN IN
(via Ministry of Foreign Affairs)
Prime Minister
Mr P.V. Narasimha Rao
Office of the Prime Minister
South Gate, Gate No.6
New Delhi 110 011, India
Telexes: 3166427 RBND IN
Faxes: +91 11 301 6781
(Ministry of Foreign Affairs)
and to diplomatic representatives of India in your country.
PLEASE SEND APPEALS IMMEDIATELY. Check with the International Secretariat or
your section office if sending appeals after 13 September 1991.

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