NHRC issues notice to the Manipur Government seeking immediate removal of the arbitrary restrictions on access to Ms. Irom Sharmila
New Delhi, 30th October, 2013
Taking suo motu cognizance of the arbitrary restrictions imposed on access to Ms. Irom Sharmila, the National Human Rights Commission has recommended that the Government of Manipur immediately remove them as these are in breach of India's obligations under international human rights standards and principles, and a grave violation of human rights. The Commission in its notice to the Chief Secretary of the State government has said that Ms. Sharmila must be permitted to receive visitors under the regime that governs all persons in judicial custody. The Commission has asked him to report to it by December 6, 2013, on the steps it has taken in response to this recommendation.
The Commission has also 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 UN, to visit Ms. Sharmila, it is unlikely that it gives others access to her. 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.
The Commission has said that Ms. Sharmila is a person of concern to it on three counts. She is, firstly, a person in custody, on the terms of whose imprisonment the Commission has received some complaints. Secondly, it has been represented to the Commission, and to the UN Special Rapporteurs who have visited India, that the terms of her imprisonment have deliberately been made harsh because she is a human rights defender. Lastly, in so far as she is held in conditions that are onerous because of her peaceful opposition to an aspect of government police, a law whose repeal she seeks, she is a prisoner of conscience.
Two Members of the Commission, accompanied by senior officers, had met Ms. Sharmila on the 23rd October, 2013, during its visit to the State. She was found frail but alert and did not complain of any physical ill-treatment. However, she repeatedly said that she was rarely allowed visitors, whereas all others in the custody of the State Government routinely receive visits from family and friends. 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.