Indian human rights activist Irom Sharmila, on hunger strike for the last 14 years in protest against alleged army atrocities, was arrested again on Friday just two days after being released from hospital detention.
“Sharmila has been re-arrested. It is clear that she is attempting suicide and we cannot allow her to do so,” said M.C. Singh, a police official in Imphal, capital of the remote northeastern state of Manipur.
Television footage showed the frail activist caught in a scuffle between protesters who rallied to her support and policewomen taking her away to the same ward where she has spent most of her incarceration.
Sharmila, 42, went on a hunger strike in 2000 to protest a law originating in the British colonial era that gives security forces wide powers to search, enter property and shoot on sight. During her detention, she was force-fed by doctors to keep her alive.
Sharmila was incarcerated in a government hospital in Imphal, the capital of Manipur state, and by law was released once a year to see if she would start eating. When she did not, she was taken back into custody and force-fed through a tube in her nose.
Singh said the police would present her before a judge to press suicide charges against her. Under Indian law attempting suicide is a punishable offense.
The activist was released from a state hospital on Wednesday after a trial judge found no evidence to support earlier charges filed by state prosecutors that she was trying to commit suicide by refusing food.
After her release, she vowed to continue her hunger strike and refused to return home.
“The government is scared of Sharmila. The authorities do not want her to fight for our rights but nothing can break her determination,” said her lawyer, Babloo Loitongbam.
Sharmila, known as the Iron Lady of Manipur, began her fast in November 2000 after 10 people were killed in a shooting at a bus stop near her home in Manipur. Activists blame the army for the killings but no arrests have been made in case.
Despite calls from judicial inquiries and human rights groups, the federal government has kept in force the anti-terror law in parts of northeast India and mainly-Muslim Kashmir to allow the military to contain insurgencies.