GUWAHATI - An Indian court Thursday reordered the release of a campaigner staging a hunger strike for more than 14 years to protest human rights abuses in the country's remote northeast, her lawyer said. Irom Sharmila, known as the Iron Lady of Manipur for her unwavering and non-violent protest, has spent years in judicial custody over her fast, intended to draw attention to abuses allegedly committed by the military.

The court in Manipur state capital Imphal struck down charges against Sharmila of attempting to commit suicide by fasting, said lawyer Khaidem Mani. "The court has ordered the release of Irom Sharmila as the prosecution failed to prove the charges," he said by phone.

The 42-year-old was expected to be released later today or tomorrow from a makeshift cell in a hospital, where she has been force fed via a nasal drip for years.

Sharmila was briefly freed last year after the court also set aside the charge, sparking celebrations from human rights activists and her family. But she vowed to continue her fast and was quickly rearrested after police slapped her with a fresh charge.

Supporters urged police to leave her alone this time, pointing to the junior home minister's statements in December that the government would decriminalise attempted suicide.

"The judgement must end the farcical cycle of arrest and re-arrest that this brave activist has faced for so long," Amnesty International programme director Shemeer Babu said.

"Authorities must (instead)... engage with the issues she is raising."

Babloo Loitangbam, a long-time Sharmila supporter and rights activist, said he was hopeful she would finally see real freedom, but added that the government has not yet removed the clause from the criminal code.

"The government has told parliament it will move on this, but so far it hasn't been gazetted," he told AFP.

Sharmila began her hunger strike in November 2000 after witnessing the army kill 10 people at a bus stop near her home in Manipur, which is subjected to the draconian Armed Forces Special Powers Act.

The act, which covers large parts of the northeastern India and the restive region of Kashmir, gives Indian forces sweeping powers to search, enter property and shoot on sight, and is seen by critics as a cover for human rights abuses.

Looking frail and with a drip hanging from her nose, the activist and poet has regularly appeared in court over the years and been asked whether she is ready to end her fast.

She has always replied "No" and, flanked by police officers, been returned to custody.