Irom Sharmila set free, says will continue struggle against AFSPA

Imphal, Aug 20 (IANS): Human rights activist Irom Sharmila Chanu, on indefinite fast in Manipur for nearly 14 years, walked free Wednesday with tears in her eyes, promising to fight to end the anti-terror act AFSPA.

Sharmila, 42, was released a day after a district sessions court asked the Manipur government to release her from the makeshift jail set up in a hospital since November 2000.

"The fresh air is inspiring," the "Iron Lady", as she is popularly known, said after being released.

She told reporters: "I will continue my struggle until the tough (anti-terror) act is repealed. I am crying because I am emotional. My struggle proves that I am right, justice has been upheld finally."

"I need people's support," said Sharmila, a recipient of many awards.

Imphal East District Sessions Judge A. Guneshwar Sharma while passing the judgment Tuesday on a petition filed by Sharmila said it was just a claim that she wants to commit suicide.

"No proof was established against the allegation of the authority. Hence, she cannot be kept under arrest and should be freed immediately," the judge added.

Sharmila has been on an indefinite hunger strike since Nov 4, 2000, demanding repeal of the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act, 1958, (AFSPA) after killing of 10 civilians allegedly by the paramilitary Assam Rifles at Malom near Imphal Nov 2, 2000.

She was charged with attempting to commit suicide. Under this charge, she can be kept in custody for a year at a stretch.

In view of her ill health, Sharmila was lodged in a special ward of the Jawaharlal Nehru Institute of Medical Sciences in Imphal where one room, where she was confined, was declared a sub-jail.

Sharmila was released and re-arrested every year (as the law allows detention only for 364 days) and force-fed thrice a day.

Despite her request to the Election Commission, she was not allowed to vote in the elections because the law does not allow any citizen in custody to cast vote.

The AFSPA, against which Sharmila has been fighting, provides unlimited powers to the security forces to shoot at sight, arrest anybody without a warrant or carry out searches without hindrances. It also insulates the security forces from legal processes for any action undertaken under the act.

The AFSPA, described by critics as "draconian law", also allows army and paramilitary soldiers operating in "disturbed areas", declared by the home ministry under the AFSPA -- to take any action suitable for them while dealing with separatists or insurgents.

The AFSPA is in force in whole or in parts of Manipur, Tripura, Assam, Nagaland besides Tirap and Changlang districts of Arunachal Pradesh and in Jammu and Kashmir.


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Title: Irom Sharmila set free, says will continue struggle against AFSPA

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