Forum demands Irom Sharmila’s release, repeal of AFSPA

Shillong: The North East Dialogue Forum (NEDF), a civil rights group has demanded immediate release of Irom Sharmila, who on Monday has completed 15 years of indefinite fast for repealing Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA).

“We strongly demand from the Indian government for the immediate release of Irom Sharmila and repeal of the controversial AFSPA from the northeastern states and Jammu and Kashmir,” NEDF Consultant, P.B.M. Basaiawmoit told journalists on Monday.

Dubbed the “Iron Lady of Manipur”, Sharmila began her fast on November 2, 2000, after witnessing the killing of 10 people by the army at a bus stop near her home.

The 43-year-old Manipuri was then arrested shortly after beginning her protest — on charges of attempted suicide. She was sent to a prison hospital in Imphal where began a daily routine of being force-fed via a nasal drip.

Sharmila is currently lodged in an isolated room of Manipur’s Jawaharlal Nehru Hospital.

Basaiawmoit said that the central government should start introspect with regards to the implementation of AFSPA in the northeastern states and Jammu and Kashmir to ensure that there is no room for ‘indefinite military rule’ in a democratic set up.

The forum also urged Prime Minister Narendra Modi to investigate all cases of extra-judicial death and sexual violence against Thangjam Manorama in the custody of Assam Rifles in June, 2004 and punish those involved as per the law.

AFSPA enables security forces to shoot at sight and arrest anybody without a warrant if an area is declared disturbed.

“The central government has been castigating Pakistan, where the final authority is the army but it is similar here where the AFSPA is being invoked in the seven states of the northeast, where the army is exempted from judicial account for its act against anyone they suspect as militants,” Basaiawmoit said.

Recalling that several committees including the UN Special Rapporteur, Justice B.P.Jeevan Reddy Committee and Santosh Committee had recommended the central government to repeal AFSPA, Basaiawmoit rued over the silence of the government on the matter.

“The army rule has no room in a democratic set up since that there are other laws to deal with several issues concerning the law and order situation in the state. We do not understand why this draconian act still exist and who gains from this (AFSPA),” he said.

The AFSPA was passed in 1990 to grant special powers and immunity from prosecution to security forces to deal with raging insurgency in the northeastern states — in large parts of Manipur, Tripura, Assam and Nagaland and some parts of Meghalaya and in Jammu and Kashmir.

The act is targeted by local human rights groups and international campaigners such as Amnesty International, which say the law has been an excuse for extrajudicial killings.

However, army officials dealing in counter-insurgency operations have maintained that it is for the central and the state governments to decide whether to repeal or continue the act.

Several human rights groups, including the powerful North East Students’ Organisation (NESO), have also been demanding withdrawal of the AFSPA from the northeastern region.