A Manipur court has ordered the release of Prisoner of Conscience Irom Sharmila, who has been on a hunger strike for over 14 years demanding the repeal of the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act. The court rejected charges that Sharmila had attempted to commit suicide.
“It is an outrage that Irom Sharmila has been in prison for over 14 years for a peaceful protest,” said Shemeer Babu, Programmes Director, Amnesty International India. “The judgement must end the farcical cycle of arrest and re-arrest that this brave activist has faced for so long. Authorities must not detain Irom Sharmila again, but engage with the issues she is raising.”
On 19 August 2014, another Manipur court had ordered Irom Sharmila to be released, stating that her hunger strike was a ‘political demand through a lawful means’. However, she was again re-arrested three days later for allegedly attempting to commit suicide.
In December 2014, India’s Minister of State for Home Affairs stated in the upper house of Parliament that the central government had decided to repeal Section 309 of the Indian Penal Code, which makes attempting to commit suicide punishable with imprisonment for up to one year.
Irom Sharmila has been on a prolonged hunger strike for over 14 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.
In February 2012, the Supreme Court of India observed in its ruling in the Ram Lila Maidan Incident 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.