An Indian court on Thursday ordered the release of Irom Sharmila Chanu, a human rights campaigner who has been on a hunger strike for more than 14 years to demand the repeal of a national security law.wpid-law.jpg

The court in the north-eastern state of Manipur rejected fresh charges of attempted suicide brought against Sharmila by police last year, said her friend and colleague Babloo Laithangbam.

Sharmila began her strike against the Armed Forces Special Powers Act in 2000 after 10 civilians were killed by security forces in her militancy-plagued home state of Manipur.

The legislation gives Indian armed forces special powers of search and seizure and protects them from prosecution for abuses.

Human rights groups say that the law has been misused by security forces in areas affected by militancy such as Jammu and Kashmir and the north-eastern states.

“The court has refused to accept a 2014 police charge-sheet. It has dropped the charges against her, we expect her to be freed soon,” Laithangbam said.

In August, another local court had ordered Sharmila’s release while ruling on an attempted suicide charge brought against her in 2000. The court said police failed to prove she had intended to commit suicide through fasting.

But three days after her release, the Manipur police re-arrested Sharmila and charged her with a new case of attempted suicide.

Under Section 309 of the Indian Penal Code, failed suicide attempts are punishable with imprisonment. While the government recently made a move to decriminalize attempted suicide, the legislation is yet to be cleared by parliament.

The activist has been arrested various times during her hunger strike at a government hospital in Imphal where she is being force-fed through a nose tube.

Sharmila will continue with her fast on her release, Laithangbam said, but state authorities could still approach the high court – where they have challenged the earlier verdict – to put her release on hold.

Amnesty International called on Indian authorities to end the “farcical” cycle of Sharmila’s arrests and re-arrests. “Authorities must not detain Irom Sharmila again, but engage with the issues she is raising,” Amnesty India’s Shemeer Babu said.

Bordering Myanmar, Manipur is one of India’s smallest states with 2.7 million inhabitants. More than 19 militant groups demanding various degrees of autonomy are active there.


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