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Free Sharmila, orders court

Imphal, Aug. 19: An Imphal court today ordered the release of rights crusader Irom Sharmila from jail, dismissing charges that she has been attempting suicide.

Sharmila, who is in judicial custody, was not present in court when the order was announced.

The court of sessions judge, Manipur East, A. Guneshwar Sharma passed the order setting aside an earlier order of chief judicial magistrate (CJM), Imphal East, A. Noutuneshwari Devi.

The CJM, on June 4 this year, ordered framing of charges against Sharmila for attempted suicide, an offence punishable under Section 309 IPC with a maximum jail term of one year.

The CJM passed the order after hearing the chargesheet submitted by police in May this year. This was the first time during her 14-year-long fast that a chargesheet was submitted against Sharmila. Before the chargesheet was submitted, she used to be released every time she completed a year’s jail term and was rearrested the next day as she continued her fast. This had been continuing since 2001.

The sessions court, saying that the prosecution could not establish Sharmila’s intention to commit suicide, ordered, “The petitioner (Sharmila) be released from custody, if not required in any other case.”

It also directed the state government to take appropriate measures for Sharmila’s health and safety like nose feeding in case she decides to continue her fast till her demand is met.

Sharmila has been on fast since November 5, 2000 to demand the repeal of Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act after Assam Rifles troops killed 10 civilians at a bus stand in Malom, 7km south of Imphal, in retaliation to a militant attack.

She has been surviving under forced nasal feeding — on a diet of liquid carbohydrates, proteins and a smattering of vitamins — for the past 14 years. “The agitation of Irom Sharmila is a political demand through a lawful means of repealing a valid statue. From her past conduct, it seems that she may continue with the fast till her demand is met politically by the government,” the order said.

The rights crusader has gone on record saying she would not end her fast until her demand is met. Sharmila’s counsel Khaidem Mani Singh, who is also the president of All Manipur Bar Association, termed the judgment a “landmark” one in the legal history of Manipur. Legal experts, however, said the final order for Sharmila’s release was yet to be passed by the CJM Imphal East. Therefore, Sharmila is yet to be released.

The state government has the option of approaching the high court to challenge today’s order. “We will take a decision on challenging today’s order after receiving it (order),” an official source said. The court directed that copies of today’s order be sent to CJM Imphal and the jail authorities.

A similar case is pending in a Delhi court in connection with Sharmila’s hunger strike at Jantar Mantar in 2006.

She is unlikely to be released immediately in view of the Delhi case, the experts said.

Sharmila had last appeared before the Delhi court on May 27 this year and the next hearing is scheduled for October 30 and 31 this year.

Sources said the Okram Ibobi Singh government would probably use the Delhi case to keep her in judicial custody.

Manipur was brought under AFSPA in 1980 following increase in militant activities. The Okram Ibobi Singh government withdrew the act from seven Assembly constituencies in Imphal East and West (Imphal Municipal limit) in August 2004 following a public upheaval triggered by the alleged rape and killing of Thangjam Manorama by troops of the Assam Rifles in Imphal East.