India: Manipur government must drop all charges against human right defender Irom Sharmila

A Delhi Court acquitted human rights defender Irom Sharmila of an “attempt to commit suicide” charge. The government of Manipur must in turn immediately drop the charges against her, said the ICJ today.

Irom Sharmila, was charged under section 309 the Indian Penal Code.

She has been on a continuous hunger strike for over 15 years, demanding repeal of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA).

“This order is a welcome recognition that Irom Sharmila’s hunger strike is a form of peaceful dissent and protest protected by the right to freedom of expression,” said Sam Zarifi, ICJ’s Asia Director.

This week, Iron Sharmila was acquitted of the charges against her in Delhi. The case against her in Manipur is, however, still on-going.

The decision of the Delhi court is not binding on the courts in Manipur, but the charges are analogous, and similar reasoning should prevail, the ICJ says.

“The government of Manipur should drop the other charges under section 309 against her, and release her immediately and unconditionally,” said Zarifi.

On at least two occasions previously, courts in Manipur have directed that Irom Sharmila be released, saying that charges under section 309 were not applicable.

“The use of section 309 against Sharmila highlights the outdated and absurd nature of this law,” Zarifi said.

“The government should expedite the repeal of 309 and, instead of criminalizing Irom Sharmila’s protest, focus on the reason behind it and repeal the AFSPA,” he added.

The AFSPA gives armed forces a range of “special powers” in “disturbed areas”, which include the power to arrest without warrant, to enter and search any premises, and in certain circumstances, “fire upon or otherwise use force, even to the causing of death”.

Furthermore, under the AFSPA, governmental permission, or sanction, is required before any member of the armed forces can be prosecuted for crimes in a civilian court.

These provisions are inconsistent with a range of human rights, including the right to life and right to remedy.

They have also facilitated torture, rape and enforced disappearances in areas where operational, the ICJ notes.

“This law is inconsistent with India’s human rights obligations, and has led to human rights violations, wide-spread impunity, and immense grief and suffering in the areas where it operates”, Zarifi said.

“It is high time that it was taken off the books”.


Irom Sharmila began a hunger strike in November 2000, calling for the repeal of the AFSPA, following the unlawful killing of 10 civilians by security forces purportedly acting under it in Malom.

She was arrested by the Manipur government in 2000 under section 309 of the Indian Penal Code, which prohibits an “attempt to commit suicide”.

Irom Sharmila has been in custody almost continuously since her initial arrest, and has continued her hunger strike.

She is fed through a nasal tube at the Jawaharlal Nehru hospital in Imphal where she is usually held.

The Delhi government also charged her on similar grounds with respect to an incident from 2006, when she held a protest in their jurisdiction.

In 2014, a Manipur court quashed charges under section 309 against Irom Sharmila, saying “The agitation of Irom Chanu Sharmila is a political demand through lawful means of repealing a valid statute. … she may continue with the fast till her demand is met politically by the Government”.

However, since she continued her hunger strike, she was immediately re-arrested on the same grounds.

In its 210th report, the Indian Law Commission has recommended that section 309 be repealed. In 2011, the Supreme Court said: “the time has come when [section 309] should be deleted by Parliament as it has become anachronistic.”

In 2014, the government announced that it was in the process of repealing 309.

The AFSPA applies to “disturbed areas” in the states of Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland and Tripura.

An almost identical law is also applicable in Jammu and Kashmir.

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