New Delhi, Oct 1 — The detention of Manipur activist Irom Sharmila Chanu for close to 13 years for her dragging hunger strike betrays India’s intolerance to dissent, Amnesty International India said Tuesday.
“Irom Sharmila is a Prisoner of Conscience, who is being held solely for her peaceful expression of her beliefs,” said Shashikumar Velath of Amnesty International India. “Authorities must drop all charges against her, and release her immediately and unconditionally.”
Irom Sharmila has been on an indefinite fast since November 2000, demanding the lifting of the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, 1958, widely known as AFSPA.
She was arrested by Manipur Police shortly after she began her hunger strike 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 New Delhi for two days.
Irom Sharmila has never been convicted of attempting to commit suicide. However, as the offence is punishable with imprisonment for up to one year only, she has been regularly released after completing a year in judicial custody, only to be re-arrested shortly after as she continues her fast, Amnesty said.
Irom Sharmila is being detained in the security ward of a hospital in Imphal, the capital of Manipur, where she is force-fed a diet of liquids through her nose.
Anyone wishing to meet her, including her family and friends, have to go through a lengthy process of obtaining permission from the Manipur government.
“India has a long history of activists undertaking hunger strikes for noble causes. Authorities must consider the validity of Irom Sharmila’s demands, not demean her protest by charging her with attempting to commit suicide,” said Shashikumar Velath.