India hunger striker re-arrested

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iol pic wld India Hunger Strike AP Irom Sharmila, centre, walks out of a security ward after her release in Porompal district, in Imphal, India. Picture: Bullu Raj

New Delhi - Indian police re-arrested on Friday a woman who has been on hunger strike for 14 years to protest against human rights abuses, just two days after she was freed on court orders.

Television footage showed officers forcibly removing Irom Sharmila, known as the Iron Lady of Manipur for her unwavering and non-violent protest.

“She was arrested for attempted suicide,” lawyer Khaidem Mani, said of Sharmila, who will appear in court on Saturday in Manipur state's capital, Imphal.

Attempting suicide is a crime in India and can be punishable by prison.

Amid screams from the 42-year-old human rights activist, a team of policewomen dragged her from a makeshift venue where she had been staging a hunger strike since her release on Wednesday.

Police said she would be taken to the same hospital, where she had been detained for years, and force fed via nasal drip. A portion of the hospital where she was receiving treatment had been declared a jail by authorities earlier.

“We cannot let her die,” a senior police official told AFP on condition of anonymity.

Sharmila began her hunger strike in November 2000 after witnessing the army kill 10 people at a bus stop near her home in Manipur, which is subject to the draconian Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA).

AFSPA, which covers large parts of northeastern India and the restive state of Kashmir, gives Indian forces sweeping powers to search, enter property and shoot on sight, and is seen by critics as a cover for human rights abuses.

Manipur state deputy chief minister Shri Gaikhangam justified Sharmila's renewed detention, saying it was an attempt to save her life.

“We need a person like her to live long... so we are taking care of her life,” Gaikhangam told NDTV television network.

However, rights activists who have long supported Sharmila's demand to repeal the AFSPA say that she has every right to protest against that law.

“If the arrest is to protect her life, the state has to react to her protest against the law,” said Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director for Human Rights Watch, a nonprofit group.

A Manipur court ruled on Tuesday that a longstanding criminal charge against her of attempting suicide was unsustainable.

The lower sessions court said that the fast by Sharmila, who insists she is not trying to take her own life, is a “political protest through lawful means”.

However, the court said in Tuesday's judgement that the state government “may take appropriate measures for her health and safety” such as feeding her through her nose if she continues to fast. - AFP



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