New Delhi, Aug 19:
The release of Indian rights activist Irom Sharmila is a legal and moral victory following her 13 year-long hunger strike, Amnesty International India said Tuesday.
Earlier in the day, a Manipur court asked the state government to release Irom Sharmila Chanu, who has been on indefinite fast for 13 years demanding revocation of the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (AFSPA) in the northeastern state.
The court ruled that the authorities had failed to establish that Irom Sharmila had intended to commit suicide, and stated that her protest was a “political demand through a lawful means”.
“This welcome but long overdue judgement recognises that Irom Sharmila’s hunger strike is a powerful protest for human rights and a peaceful exercise of her right to freedom of expression,” Shailesh Rai, programme director at Amnesty International India, said in a statement.
The human rights watchdog quoted India’s National Human Rights Commission where it noted that Sharmila was a “Prisoner of Conscience” who was being detained solely for the peaceful expression of her beliefs.
Last year, Amnesty International India garnered the support of over 18,000 people from across the country calling for the unconditional release of Irom Sharmila.
Rai is of the view that all other charges against Sharmila must be dropped and instead the authorities must pay attention to the issues the activist is raising.
Sharmila, 42, better known as the “Iron Lady”, has been on an indefinite fast since Nov 4, 2000, demanding repeal of the AFSPA after the killing of 10 civilians allegedly by the para-military Assam Rifles near Imphal airport Nov 1, 2000.
“A hunger strike is a form of protest which has been accepted, both historically and legally in our constitutional jurisprudence’,” Amnesty International’s statement quoted the Indian Supreme Court as observing in its landmark ruling on the New Delhi incident in February 2012 in which she was charged with attempting to commit suicide.
Under this charge, she can be kept in custody for a year at a stretch.
In view of her ill health, Sharmila is currently lodged in a special ward of the Jawaharlal Nehru Institute of Medical Sciences in Imphal where the one room where she is confined has been declared a sub-jail.
Sharmila is released and re-arrested every year (as the law allows detention only for 364 days) and force-fed a diet of a mixture of liquefied carbohydrates and proteins through the nose thrice a day.