Asean MPs Call for Release of Jailed Saffron Leader

By The Irrawaddy 22 January 2016

RANGOON — A group of parliamentarians from across Southeast Asia on Thursday raised concern over the re-arrest of former monk and pro-democracy leader Gambira, calling for his immediate release.

In a statement issued on Thursday, Asean Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR) said Gambira’s arrest was likely politically motivated. His detention at such a pivotal time is “extremely concerning and risks sacrificing any potential positive legacy of the government of President Thein Sein,” the statement read.

“Gambira has sacrificed a great deal to support the rights of the Myanmar people to fight for democracy and should be treated accordingly—not hounded and thrown in jail,” Son Chhay, a Cambodian Member of Parliament and Vice Chair of APHR, said in the statement.

On Friday, at least 20 political prisoners were released in a presidential amnesty following calls from the international community and human rights groups to free all prisoners of conscience before the current government’s term ends in late March.

More prisoners are expected to be released throughout the day, though it is still unclear whether Gambira was or will be among those freed. He is unlikely to have been screened and identified as a current prisoner of conscience, however, as he has not yet been convicted.

Gambira, also known as Nyi Nyi Lwin, has long been considered one of Burma’s most prominent political prisoners. A former monk and a leader of the 2007 Saffron Revolution, he was arrested and forcibly disrobed for his role in the pro-democracy uprising.

His arrest on Jan. 19 was at least his fourth detention since he was freed in a 2012 amnesty. Since his initial release, he has lived alternately in Burma and Thailand, where he sought treatment for mental illness and post-traumatic stress disorder related to his treatment while in prison.

His latest detention, on allegations of violating an immigration law that could land him in prison for up to five years, has been roundly decried as politically motivated, prompting a chorus of calls for his release. On Wednesday, rights group Amnesty International also called for his immediate and unconditional release.

Gambira is currently being detained in Mandalay’s Oh Bo Prison, and his next hearing is scheduled for Feb. 3.