Global Concern for Detained Former Monk Gambira

By Saw Yan Naing 7 December 2012

RANGOON—The continued detention of Gambira, a well-known former Buddhist monk who was previously jailed for his leading role instigating the 2007 Saffron Revolution popular uprising, has generated a wave of concern from the international community.

The outspoken 33-year-old was rearrested by police on Dec. 1 and is now being detained in Rangoon’s infamous Insein Prison. He is currently in a poor state of health and suffering from acute headaches, said his brother Aung Kyaw Kyaw after visiting him on Wednesday.

The US Embassy in Rangoon has joined calls for the Burmese government to clarify why he is being detained. “We’re monitoring reports of U Gambira’s detention. We urged the government of Burma to be fully transparent and follow due process of law,” said a post on embassy’s Twitter social network page.

Aung Kyaw Kyaw said that Gambira is currently being held for three offences under the Burmese Penal Code—Section 448 for house trespassing, carrying a penalty of up to one year imprisonment; Section 427 for damaging the dignity of the nation, with a penalty of up to two years; and Section 454 for house-breaking, with a penalty of up to 10 years. He is due for trial on Dec. 14.

The charges relate to removing the locks from several monasteries in February 2012, as well as staying in a monastery without permission. The buildings had been sealed by the authorities as they believed that the resident monks played an active role in dissident activities.

“It is not clear why the authorities have decided to press charges against U Gambira more than nine months after the alleged offenses occurred,” Amnesty International said in a statement. “There are credible accounts that U Gambira was subjected to torture after his arrest in 2007 and endured ill-treatment in prison between 2008 and his release on Jan. 13, 2012, leaving his health in a fragile condition.”

Gambira is joined in Insein Prison by leading Burmese activist Moe Thway, a leader of Rangoon-based Generation Wave, and another activist Aung Soe. All three were arrested by police on Dec. 1 during a rally outside the Chinese Embassy in Rangoon to protest last week’s violent crackdown on anti-copper mine protesters.

Gambira, also known as Nyi Nyi Lwin, was a leading figure in the monk-led Saffron Revolution pro-democracy protests of September 2007 and was sentenced to 68 years in prison as a consequence. He was released earlier this year in a presidential amnesty, but has been rearrested several times afterwards for his outspoken criticism of the government.

On Thursday, London-based activist group Burma Campaign UK called on British Foreign Office Minister Hugo Swire MP, who will pay a visit to Burma next week, to demand the unconditional release of Gambira and all remaining political prisoners in Burma.

“It was bad enough that President Thein Sein had decided to keep hundreds of political prisoners in jail, selectively releasing them when he wants good publicity,” said Wai Hnin, group campaigns officer.

“Now we are seeing released prisoners sent back to jail, and new people being arrested and put on trial for peacefully protesting. Everyone in Burma remembers we have seen this happen before, under Than Shwe and Ne Win.”

Gambira has now been arrested three times since his release in January. He has kept speaking about human rights violations in Burma and has been denied a national identity card or passport as a result.

All those freed in amnesties since 2011 have been granted conditional release under Section 401 of the Code of Criminal Procedure. Any prisoner who is subsequently deemed by the authorities to have breached these terms can be returned to prison to serve the remainder of their original sentence.

Gambira was reportedly tortured during his previous detention and claims to have been strapped to a chair for weeks at a time, force-fed and brutally beaten on the head.

“Gambira is a victim of extreme forms of torture who is continuing to suffer physical and mental ailments as a consequence of his previous incarceration and treatment,” said a statement by the Asian Human Rights Commission. “His re-imprisonment is an act that demonstrates the extreme insensitivity of the authorities in Myanmar to the incidence of torture and its aftermath.”