//Irom Sharmila arrested on returning home

Irom Sharmila arrested on returning home

Mar 4, 2007

GUWAHATI, India (Reuters) – A woman who has been fasting for more than six years in protest against an anti-terror law was arrested on Sunday after she moved her campaign back home from New Delhi, activists said.

Irom Sharmila, 34, moved to New Delhi in October to continue with her fast which she began in late 2000 after soldiers shot dead 10 young men at a bus stop in a small town in the revolt-torn northeastern state of Manipur.

She has been demanding the repeal of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) which gives troops sweeping powers to kill suspected rebels and immunity from prosecution. The law has led to widespread rights abuses in Manipur, activists say.

"Sharmila has been taken away by police and admitted in hospital," Babloo Loitongbam of Manipur's Human Rights Alert said by phone from Imphal, the state capital, shortly before he and a colleague were also arrested without any charges.

Senior police officials in Imphal refused to comment on the arrests.

Sharmila has become an iconic figure for Manipuris and she wanted to return home last month as her campaign was not making much of an impact in the capital while the AFSPA was one of the main issues in state assembly elections held in February.

She was under arrest in New Delhi as well and was being force-fed through a nasal tube at a government hospital just like authorities in Manipur did since she launched her campaign.

But her return was stopped by authorities who apparently feared it could hurt the ruling Congress in the polls, as it was seen to be non-committal on lifting AFSPA, analysts said. Congress returned to power last week.

The 1958 law applies only in Kashmir and insurgency-affected northeastern India. Human rights groups say it has given the army a licence to kill, torture and rape with impunity.