India hunger striker Irom Sharmila to be freed

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Irom Sharmila after hospital release in August 2014Image source, AFP
Image caption,
Irom Sharmila after her release from hospital custody in August 2014

An Indian court has ordered the release of a woman who has been on hunger strike for 14 years in protest at special powers used against rebels.

It is not the first time 42-year-old Irom Sharmila will be free to go home and her force-feeding suspended.

The authorities have force-fed her in Manipur using a law against suicide.

But India's recent decriminalisation of suicide could mean that the authorities will find it harder to detain her again.

However, her supporters warn that the relevant clause has not yet been removed from the criminal code.

Image source, AFP
Image caption,
The Iron Lady of Manipur after a court appearance in May 2014

Not since November 2000 has Irom Sharmila eaten a meal voluntarily.

She started her hunger strike to protest against sweeping powers for the army in her remote north-eastern home state.

The Armed Forces Special Powers Act allows the army to search and enter properties, make arrests and shoot on sight.

'Cycle of arrest'

Sharmila, also known as the Iron Lady of Manipur, was briefly freed last year after a court set aside the charges against her.

But when she vowed to continue her fast, she was given a fresh charge and taken into custody again.

In December the home ministry announced its intention to decriminalise attempted suicide.

"The judgement must end the farcical cycle of arrest and re-arrest that this brave activist has faced for so long", said Amnesty International's India Programme Director Shemeer Babu.

He urged the authorities to engage with the issues Sharmila was raising with her prolonged campaign.