Imphal: A local court on Tuesday ordered the release of rights activist Irom Chanu Sharmila, under detention for attempting to commit suicide by fasting for nearly 14 years demanding withdrawal of a tough law that gives sweeping powers to armed forces from Manipur.
Absolving her of the charge of attempt to suicide, sessions judge (Imphal east) A Guneshwar Sharma said, "The petitioner (Sharmila) be released from custody if not required in any other case."
The prosecution, he said, had "failed miserably" to establish her intention to commit suicide by fasting unto death and evidence of the alleged offence, which is punishable under Section 309 of the IPC, was lacking.
42-year-old Sharmila's agitation was a political demand through a lawful means of repealing a valid statue – Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act 1958 -- and from her past conduct it seems she may continue with her fast till her demand is met politically by the government, the court said.
In the circumstances, the state government may take up appropriate measures for her health and safety such as nose feeding in case she decides to continue with her fast, the judge said.
She was being kept at the government hospital at Porompat here where a room was converted into a jail. She is being fed through her nose.
She is released and re-arrested every year as the law allows detention only for 364 days.
The state police had earlier filed cases under different provisions of CrPC stating that Sharmila was attempting to commit suicide by fasting for more than 13 years. While Y Indira represented the government, Sharmila was represented by senior advocate and well-known human rights activist Khaidem Mani.
The activist had launched her fast after the killing of 10 people allegedly by Assam Rifles in a suspected encounter with insurgents at Malom near Imphal airport in November 2000. She has been under arrest since then and has been released from time to time but continued her fast for the past more than one decade.
Sharmila's brother Irom Singhajit said her sister would continue her fast.
"She has vowed to carry on her non-violent protest against AFSPA till it is repealed. Even if the police releases her, she will continue her fast near the hospital where she is kept currently," he told PTI.
Till late in the evening, the civil rights activist is yet to be released by the authorities.
"Once they receive the court order, she would be released. Her release from detention will not affect her struggle and will allow more people to join her fight as she has been living an isolated life in the hospital," Singhajit said.
Amnesty welcomed the court verdict, saying it was a long overdue judgement, which recognises that her hunger strike is a peaceful exercise of her right to freedom of expression.
"This welcome but long overdue judgement recognises that Irom Sharmila's hunger strike is a powerful protest for human rights and a peaceful exercise of her right to freedom of expression," Shailesh Rai, Programmes Director at Amnesty International India said.
"Irom Sharmila should never have been arrested in the first place. All other charges against her of attempted suicide must be dropped and she must be immediately released.
Authorities must instead pay attention to the issues this remarkable activist is raising," he said.