GAUHATI, India – A court on Thursday ordered the release of a frail Indian activist who has been on a hunger strike for nearly 15 years to protest alleged military brutality in India's remote northeast.
The court dropped the charge of attempted suicide against Irom Sharmila, weeks after the Indian government decriminalized suicide attempts, which earlier were punishable by up to a year in prison, said Monika, a rights activist who attended the court proceedings. She uses one name.
Sharmila is likely to be freed later Thursday from a hospital in Imphal, the Manipur state capital, where she has been kept in custody and fed forcibly by a tube since 2000.
However, 42-year-old Sharmila told reporters that she would continue her fast until the government scrapped an act which gives security forces wide powers in quelling insurgencies.
Sharmila had her last voluntary meal on Nov. 4, 2000, in Imphal. She was arrested within days and has been force fed through a tube in her nose ever since. Under the previous law, she was to be released once a year to see if she will start eating. When she didn't, she was taken back into custody and force fed.
She has been protesting against the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, which is in effect in Indian-ruled Kashmir and in northeastern areas like Manipur that are wracked by separatist insurgencies. The law gives troops the right of shoot-to-kill suspected rebels without fear of possible prosecution and to arrest suspected militants without a warrant. It also gives police wide-ranging powers of search and seizure.
The law prohibits soldiers from being prosecuted for alleged rights violations unless permission is granted by the federal government. Such prosecutions are rare.