An Indian court has ordered the release of human rights activist Irom Sharmila, who has been on a hunger strike for the last 14 years. She was protesting rights abuses in the eastern Indian state of Manipur.
"The court has set her free," Sharmila’s lawyer Mani Khaidem said on Tuesday. Sharmila, described by Amnesty International as a prisoner of conscience, was arrested on charges of trying to commit suicide shortly after she began her protest in 2000.
"The court said that it is just an allegation that she wants to commit suicide, hence she cannot be kept under arrest and should be released immediately," Sharmila’s lawyer added.
The activist’s brother, Irom Singhajit, welcomed the decision, but feared that she wouldn’t be free for long because she would continue with her protest.
"That is what I fear. Even if she is released, she will be arrested again within a day or two," he said.
Sharmila’s supporters fear that the court’s decision may be overturned if the Manipur government decides to appeal against the lower court’s statement. She also faces charges of attempting to kill herself in the capita,l New Delhi, where she has staged several hunger strikes.
In 2000, Indian armed forces killed 10 civilians in Manipur, prompting Sharmila to go on a hunger strike. She was soon arrested and sent to a prison hospital where she was force-fed using a nasal drip.
Sharmila’s protests focus on the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) which allows Indian security forces to search terror suspects and take them into custody without a warrant. An Indian army soldier can also fire at suspects if he feels that he has given them sufficient warning. The AFSPA extends to India’s seven states in the east including Manipur.
Manipur, situated on the border to Myanmar, is one of India’s smallest states. It has around 2.7 million inhabitants and several ethnic groups embroiled in conflict with each other and with the Indian government over demands for autonomy.
mg/tj (dpa, AFP)