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Release Sharmila: Amnesty

- Team visits Manipur

Imphal, Dec. 17: Amnesty International India today demanded the unconditional release of human rights crusader Irom Sharmila, saying her detention was “illegal” and vowed to continue a campaign till she was freed.

A four-member team from the India unit of Amnesty, which arrived on Sunday to review human rights situation in Manipur, met Sharmila and deputy chief minister Gaikhangam yesterday and representatives of NGOs and some MLAs today.

“The governments at Manipur and New Delhi should heed the thousands of voices urging them to drop all charges against Irom Sharmila and release her immediately,” said G. Anathapadmanabhan, chief executive of Amnesty International India, based in Bangalore.

This is the first time that a team from Amnesty International met Sharmila since she began her hunger strike demanding repeal of the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act in 2000. She has been charged with attempting to commit suicide, an offence punishable by one-year jail term.

Sharmila has been kept at the security ward of Jawaharlal Nehru Institute of Medical Sciences, an extension of Sajiwa Jail here. She was released on completion of her term only to be re-arrested as she refused to call off her fast.

Calling Sharmila a “prisoner of conscience”, Anathapadmanabhan said her continued detention was illegal. “Amnesty’s position is that her detention is violation of all international laws and fundamental rights given by the Constitution,” he said.

During the team’s meeting with Sharmila at her hospital room, she expressed her desire to be free, meet people as a free individual and continue her struggle.

The team, which will be leaving tomorrow, wrote a letter to chief minister Okram Ibobi Singh urging him to release her immediately.

Claiming that nearly 18,000 people have signed a petition seeking Sharmila’s release, Anathapadmanabhan said the India unit of Amnesty would continue to campaign against the army act, in India and abroad.

He said the act fell short of international human rights standards, including provisions of treaties to which India was a party and was inconsistent with the country’s international legal obligations to respect and protect the right to life, liberty and security of person, freedom from torture and other ill-treatment and to an effective remedy.

“We will campaign continuously until she is released,” he said.

The team handed over 100 letters written by students of Bangalore to Sharmila showing solidarity to her cause.

“I can say I was truly moved and strengthened by your resolve. I can do something if not actually go on a hunger strike I can support you and others like you to fight for our rights and a better world,” Mathew Arnold, a student of Bangalore’s Legacy School, wrote to Sharmila.