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Indian court orders release of woman on hunger fast for 14 years


Social activist from Manipur, Irom Sharmila, who has been on a fast for 12 years demanding the repeal of the controversial Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), arrives at the Indira Gandhi International Airport in New Delhi in this file photo. An Indian court August 19 ordered the release of a woman who has been on a hunger strike for 14 years over human rights abuses in the country's remote northeast, her lawyer said. "The court has set her free," lawyer Mani Khaidem said of hunger striker Irom Sharmila who was arrested shortly after beginning her protest in 2000. Photo: AFP

New Delhi: An Indian court on Tuesday ordered the release of a human rights campaigner who has been on a hunger fast for 14 years, saying there was not enough ground to prove she was trying to kill herself.

Irom Sharmila, 42, has been demanding the repeal of a law that gives India's military sweeping powers to search and detain anyone suspected to be involved in an armed revolt in the remote northeastern state of Manipur.

She has been kept under arrest in a state-run hospital and force-fed by tubes. On Tuesday a court in the state capital, Imphal, ordered that the charge of attempting suicide be dropped and Sharmila be freed.

"The case of Sharmila attempting to commit suicide could not be established," her lawyer Babloo Loitongbam said. "We are hoping that she is allowed to march out as a free citizen on Wednesday."

Her release has to be confirmed by a higher court.

The Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA), which covers large parts of northeastern India and Kashmir, gives security forces powers to search, enter property and shoot-on-sight.

Critics say the law encourages soldiers to commit abuses, and even in Kashmir the state chief minister Omar Abdullah has been demanding its withdrawal, saying it alienates citizens.

India's military says the law is necessary for it to tackle insurgency and that it investigates allegations of abuse against soldiers.

Sharmila, known as the Iron Lady of Manipur, began her fast in 2000 after 10 people were killed in a shooting incident near her home which activists blamed on the army.


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