Amnesty International Prisoner of Conscience Irom Chanu Sharmila would end her 16-year-long hunger strike against the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (AFSPA) today. Amnesty International India calls on authorities to drop all charges against her, and take steps to repeal the AFSPA.

At a hearing in a local court, 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.” The activist signed a bail bond and is likely to be released on bail soon.

“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 criminalized,” said Abhirr VP, Senior Campaigner with Amnesty International India.

“Irom Sharmila’s decision to break her hunger strike gives India another chance to start a dialogue and recognize how the AFSPA has alienated Manipur for over 35 years.”

The activist was arrested by the Manipur police after she began her hunger strike on 2 November 2000, and has been repeatedly 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. 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 any offence.

The AFSPA in Manipur has provided impunity for perpetrators of grave human rights violations, including extrajudicial executions, enforced disappearances, rape, torture and other ill-treatment, and excessive use of force.

On 8 July, the 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 1528 cases of alleged extrajudicial executions committed by security forces from 1979 to 2012 in Manipur needed to be looked into, and offences committed by security forces could be prosecuted in civilian courts. It asked for more information about the cases. Proceedings will resume in September.

The Supreme Court 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.”

“The Manipur and central governments must heed the words of the Supreme Court. The ruling makes it clear that security force personnel accused of human rights violations must not be allowed to get away with impunity,” said Abhirr VP.

The AFSPA is inconsistent with India’s obligations under international human rights law to respect and protect the rights to life, liberty and security of person, to freedom from torture and other ill-treatment, and to an effective remedy. Several Indian and international bodies have called for its repeal.

Featured image: Sunzu Bachaspatimayum / Amnesty International India