‘A peaceful protest was criminalised’ - Abhirr VP
As the Indian activist Irom Sharmila ended her 16-year-long hunger strike against the country's “draconian” Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) today, Amnesty International India called on the Indian authorities to drop all charges against the prisoner of conscience and take steps to repeal the law.
Abhirr VP, Senior Campaigner at Amnesty International India, said:
“Irom Sharmila’s hunger strike over the last 16 years has been a testament to her passion for human rights, and her belief that a draconian law like the AFSPA has no place in any society.
“The government arrested her, confined her to a hospital room and force fed her for 16 years, seemingly to break her will. There was zero dialogue. A peaceful protest was criminalised.
“Irom Sharmila’s decision to break her hunger strike gives India another chance to start a dialogue and recognise how the AFSPA has alienated Manipur for over 35 years.”
At a court hearing Irom Sharmila said:
“I have been fasting for the last 16 years. I haven’t got anything from it yet. I am ending my fast today. I want to try a different agitation now. I will contest against the Chief Minister of Manipur in the upcoming state elections.”
A protest, not suicide
Sharmila, who has signed a bail bond and is likely to be released soon, was originally arrested by the Manipur state police after beginning a hunger strike on 2 November 2000. She has repeatedly been charged with attempting suicide, but never convicted. She has pleaded not guilty to the charges of attempting to commit suicide, saying she is involved in a non-violent protest. Likewise, courts in Manipur have repeatedly ruled that her hunger strike is a form of peaceful protest, and not an attempt at suicide. Although attempting to commit suicide is a bailable offence, Sharmila had earlier refused to sign bail bonds, maintaining that she had not committed an offence.
Armed Forces Special Powers Act
The Armed Forces Special Powers Act - which applies in Sharmila's home state of Manipur as well as several other Indian states - has provided impunity for perpetrators of grave human rights violations, including extrajudicial executions, enforced disappearances, rape and torture. On 8 July, the Manipur Supreme Court, while hearing a public interest litigation filed by the Extrajudicial Execution Victims’ Families Association of Manipur and Imphal-based NGO Human Rights Alert, said that 1,528 cases of alleged extrajudicial executions committed by the security forces from 1979 to 2012 in Manipur needed to be examined, and offences committed by the security forces could be prosecuted in civilian courts. It asked for more information about the cases. Proceedings will resume in September.
Amnesty has stressed that the Armed Forces Special Powers Act is inconsistent with India’s obligations under international human rights law. The Manipur Supreme Court has said: “If members of our armed forces are deployed and employed to kill citizens of our country on the mere allegation or suspicion that they are the ‘enemy’, not only the rule of law but our democracy would be in grave danger.”