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Irom Sharmila’s arrest marks return to absurd ritual: Amnesty International India

January 25, 2015 | By

New Delhi: Amnesty International India has condemned the re-arrest of Prisoner of Conscience Irom Sharmila by the Manipur police on Friday, 23 January. The police arrested Irom Sharmila on the charge of attempting to commit suicide, a day after a Manipur court rejected an identical charge and ordered her release.

“This re-arrest makes a mockery of the Indian criminal justice process. In the last five months Irom Sharmila has been released and re-arrested twice in what has now become an absurd ritual,” said Shemeer Babu, Programmes Director, Amnesty International India.

Amnesty India condemns rearrest of Irom Sharmila

Amnesty India condemns rearrest of Irom Sharmila

On 19 August 2014, another Manipur court had ordered Irom Sharmila to be released, stating that her hunger strike was a ‘political demand through a lawful means’. But she was again re-arrested three days later on an attempted suicide charge.

“This is an extraordinary situation where a peaceful protestor is being denied her constitutional right to freedom of expression. A hunger strike is not attempted suicide, and it is baffling why authorities repeatedly bring the same charge against Irom Sharmila that courts have thrown out,” said Shemeer Babu.

In February 2012, the Supreme Court of India observed in its ruling in the Ram Lila Maidan Incident case that a hunger strike is “a form of protest which has been accepted, both historically and legally in our constitutional jurisprudence.”


Irom Sharmila has been on a prolonged hunger strike for over 14 years, demanding the repeal of the draconian Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (AFSPA). She was arrested by the Manipur police shortly after she began her hunger strike on 2 November 2000, and charged with attempting to commit suicide – a criminal offence under Indian law. In March 2013, a Delhi court also charged Sharmila with attempting to commit suicide in October 2006, when she staged a protest in Delhi for two days.

She has never been convicted for attempting to commit suicide. However, as the offence is punishable with imprisonment for up to one year, she has been regularly released after completing a year in judicial custody, only to be re-arrested shortly after as she continues her fast.

The British Medical Association, in a briefing to the World Medical Association, has clarified that, “[a] hunger strike is not equivalent to suicide. Individuals who embark on hunger strikes aim to achieve goals important to them but generally hope and intend to survive.” This position is embodied by the World Medical Association in its Malta Declaration on Hunger Strikers.

In December 2014, India’s Minister of State for Home Affairs stated in the upper house of Parliament that the central government had decided to repeal Section 309 of the Indian Penal Code, which makes attempting to commit suicide punishable with imprisonment for up to one year.

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