World Bulletin / News Desk
International organizations and human rights activists have urged the Indian government to release Irom Sharmila, who has remained on hunger strike for 15 years to protest India’s draconian Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (AFSPA), which remains in effect in several parts of the country.
Irom Sharmila, who is now 42 years old and is fed intravenously, began her hunger strike in late 2000 to protest the AFSPA, which gives the security forces supreme power to operate in “disturbed” areas of the country, including India’s Northeast region and Jammu and Kashmir.
Rights activists, for their part, say that ever since the AFSPA went into effect it has represented a violation of human rights.
Sharmila is currently kept in a cell, surrounded by police in Imphal, her hometown in the northeastern state of Manipur.
Several rights groups have urged the Indian authorities to unconditionally release Sharmila and repeal the AFSPA. These include the Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA); Human Rights Alert (Manipur); Amnesty International India; and the Naga People’s Movement for Human Rights.
“Irom Sharmila’s 15-year hunger strike is a symbol of a brave struggle against injustice,” FORUM-ASIA Chairperson Henri Tiphagne said. “The AFSPA has caused widespread human rights violations, like enforced disappearances, extrajudicial executions, torture and sexual violence.”
Sharmila was initially arrested four days after she began her hunger strike and was charged with attempted suicide, considered a crime under Section 309 of India’s penal code.
“According to Section 309, a person convicted of the crime of attempted suicide may only be imprisoned a year,” Babloo Loitongbam, director of Human Rights Alert (Manipur), explained.
“Since then, Sharmila has been arrested, released and rearrested to be released after a year of judicial custody, where she is force-fed through a nasogastric tube,” he added.
“Sharmila has never been convicted of charges of attempted suicide,” Loitongbam noted. “She has repeatedly rejected the allegation that she is trying to commit suicide and maintains that she is on hunger strike to demand the repeal of the AFSPA.”
In August of last year, a Manipur court ordered Sharmila’s release, stating that her hunger strike constituted a “political demand through lawful means”.
Four months later, India’s Ministry of Home Affairs said the government had decided to repeal Section 309 so as to decriminalize attempted suicide.
“Again on Jan. 23 of 2015, a district court in Imphal rejected the charges of attempted suicide and ordered Sharmila’s release from custody,” said Aakar Patel, executive director of Amnesty International India.
“However, she was re-arrested on the very same charges one day later,” he added. “Sharmila has been facing this farcical cycle of arrest and re-arrest and has been subjected to force-feeding since she began her hunger strike in 2000.”
Describing her as a “prisoner of conscience”, Patel went on to assert that Sharmila’s ongoing detention “leaves a stain on India’s commitment to human rights”.
According to a statement by Amnesty International, the criminalization of Sharmila’s peaceful protest violates the spirit of Article 1 of the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, which guarantees the right of rights advocates to promote and protect human rights.Last Mod: 02 Kasım 2015, 17:10