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Iron Lady of Manipur, Irom Sharmila, released from Jail; Amnesty Intl. India hails court decision

August 20, 2014 | By

New Delhi, India (August 20, 2014): Regarded as the Iron Lady Manipur, Irom Charu Sharmila was today released from jail. Irom Sharmila, who has been on fast for last 14 years demanded revocation of draconian law imposed in Manipur by Indian state, came out of jail with tears in her eyes.

“The fresh air is refreshing,” the 42-year-old activist said in her first words after being released from a prison hospital in Imphal where doctors force-fed her to keep her alive.

She was released after a court found no evidence that she was trying to commit suicide by refusing food.

She says she will continue her fast against a law that gives the army sweeping emergency powers in her home state. Her release means she will not be force-fed by tubes through her nose – as she has been throughout her custody – unless she is arrested again.

Irom Chanu Sharmila - the Iron Lady of Manipur [File Photo]

Irom Chanu Sharmila – the Iron Lady of Manipur [File Photo]

“I am crying because I am emotional,” she told reporters, adding, “My struggle proves that I am right, justice must be served.”

Irom Chanu Sharmila had began her fast in November 2000, days after 10 people, including two children, were shot dead in Imphal, by personnel of the Assam Rifles.

Three days later, she was charged with attempt to suicide and arrested. She was 27 then.

She has vowed to continue her battle against draconian Armed Forces Special Powers Act or AFSPA, which has been misused and has led to gross human rights violations.

The law allows soldiers legal immunity when they are operating in “disturbed areas” or states dealing with separatists or insurgents. Soldiers are allowed to make arrests without warrants or raid any location.

International human rights organization Amnesty International India Hails Court decision:

International human rights organization Amnesty International India has welcomed the court decision to release Irom Sharmila.

“This welcome but long overdue judgement recognizes that Irom Sharmila’s hunger strike is a powerful protest for human rights and a peaceful exercise of her right to freedom of expression,” said Shailesh Rai, Programmes Director at Amnesty International India.

“Irom Sharmila should never have been arrested in the first place. All other charges against her of attempted suicide must be dropped and she must be immediately released. Authorities must instead pay attention to the issues this remarkable activist is raising”, Amnesty International India’s statement reads.

Irom Sharmila has been on a prolonged hunger strike for over 13 years, demanding the repeal of the 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.

Irom Sharmila is being detained in the security ward of a hospital in Imphal, Manipur, where she is force-fed a diet of liquids through her nose. 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.

Last year, over 18,000 people from across India supported an Amnesty International India campaign calling for the unconditional release of Irom Sharmila. India’s National Human Rights Commission also acknowledged that she was a ‘Prisoner of Conscience’ who was being detained solely for the peaceful expression of her beliefs and called for the removal of restrictions imposed on access to her.

Speaking to Amnesty International India in September 2013, Irom Sharmila said, “My struggle is my message. I love my life very much and want to have the freedom to meet people and struggle for issues close to my heart.”

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

The AFSPA, which has been in force in parts of North-eastern India since 1958, and a virtually identical law in force in Jammu and Kashmir since 1990, provides sweeping powers to soldiers, including the power to shoot to kill in certain situations and to arrest people without warrants. The Act also provides virtual immunity from prosecution for security personnel, by mandating prior permission from the central government, which is almost never granted.

The AFSPA falls short of international human rights standards, including provisions of treaties to which India is a state party; and is inconsistent with India’s international legal obligations to respect and protect the right to life, liberty and security of person, to freedom from torture and other ill-treatment, and to an effective remedy.

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