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Remove curbs on access to Sharmila, NHRC tells Manipur

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Remove curbs on access to Sharmila, NHRC tells Manipur
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Guwahati: The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) Wednesday suggested that the Manipur government immediately remove all arbitrary restrictions imposed on access to the state's prominent rights activist Irom Sharmila.

Sharmila, popularly known as the Iron Lady of Manipur has been on an indefinite fast since November 2000 demanding revocation of the Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (AFSPA), 1958, from the state.

The NHRC took a suo motu cognizance of the restrictions and suggested to Manipur that these restrictions are in breach of India's obligations under international human rights standards and principles and a grave violation of human rights.

The development came a week after two commission members met Sharmila Oct 23 during its three-day sitting in Imphal. She was found frail but alert and did not complain of any physical ill-treatment.

However, she repeatedly said she was rarely allowed visitors, whereas all others in the custody of the state government routinely receive visits from family and friends.

The commission issued notice to the Manipur chief secretary and said Sharmila must be permitted to receive visitors under the regime that governs all people in judicial custody. The rights panel has asked for a report by Dec 6 on the steps taken on its recommendation.

"The Commission observed that it believes that if the government of Manipur could deny permission to its special rapporteur, a retired director general of police, and to special rapporteurs of the United Nations (UN), to visit Sharmila, it is unlikely that it gives others access to her," the NHRC said in a statement.

"It would appear that, while keeping her alive, since her death would create problems for the state government, it is trying to break her spirit through this enforced isolation, for which there is no judicial mandate, though she is in judicial custody," said an NHRC statement.

"The state government officers could not give any satisfactory reply to the commission on this egregious exception made to the practice in her case, but was informed that permission to meet her must be issued by either the chief minister or the deputy chief minister," the statement said.

"Sharmila is, first, a person in custody, on the terms of whose imprisonment the commission has received some complaints. Second, it has been represented to the commission, and to the UN special rapporteurs who visited India, that the terms of her imprisonment have deliberately been made harsh because she is a human rights defender," said the statement.

The NHRC also hailed the activist as "a prisoner of conscience" insofar as she is held in conditions that are onerous because of her peaceful opposition to an aspect of government and police, a law whose repeal she seeks.

IANS

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