A former Buddhist monk who helped lead the 2007 Saffron Revolution is scheduled to appear in court today to answer an illegal border crossing charge following his arrest on Tuesday.
U Gambira, also known as Nyi Nyi Lwin, and his wife Australian citizen Marie Siochana were apprehended by police in Mandalay where they traveled to apply for a passport, family members told RFA’s Myanmar Service. Since Gambira was released from prison in a 2012 amnesty arrangement he has primarily lived in Thailand.
“We don’t know anything yet,” his mother Daw Yay told RFA. “They took away both. Last night they released his wife, but they kept him there.”
Yay said Gambira is being held in Ohbo Prison. A hearing is set for Feb. 3.
“The immigration officers are questioning him and will present to the Maha Aung Myay Courthouse today,” a police officer from the township told The Irrawaddy, adding that the charge do not allow for bail.
Amnesty International issued an "urgent action" bulletin asking supporters to pressure the Myanmar government to release Gambria saying they belive the charges to be "contrived, arbitrary and politically motivated."
Arrested after the Saffron Revolution for his role organizing monks to participate in the uprising, Gambria is one of Myanmar’s most prominent political dissidents.
Health problems cause worry
Since his release, he has struggled with mental health issues and sought treatment in Thailand. While traveling back and forth between the countries, he has been arrested at least four times on what are largely viewed as trumped-up charges.
“I’m worried about him because he can’t get bail,” Siochana told The Irrawady. “He is mentally ill and needs to take medicine regularly. He needs to look after his health, and I wonder why they still want to arrest him.”
Gambira became widely-known in August 2007 during widespread protests against the State Peace and Development Council and Myanmar’s military government. The protests were sparked when the SPDC cut fuel subsidies without warning, causing fuel and other commodity prices to rise sharply.
The city's Buddhist monks played a leadership role in those demonstrations, forming the All Burma Monks’ Alliance. The “Saffron Revolution” moniker was derived from the color of the monks' robes. Gambira, then a 29-year-old monk, became an alliance leader, later saying the monks had been planning an uprising since at least 2003.
Gambira went into hiding after the government violently quashed the protests, killing some monks and other protesters. He was arrested in the Sagaing region in November of 2007 after editorials he’d written appeared in The Washington Post and and The Guardian. In his writings, Gambira called for the international community to continue sanctions against Burma's leadership, for Russia and China to cease supporting the SPDC and for Burma's people to continue peaceful protests against the country’s military rulers.
While in Insein Prison, he led other monks in a chanting to protest their being issued "layperson" identification cards for the upcoming constitutional referendum. He was subsequently placed in solitary confinement. In speaking later of conditions in the prison, Gambira stated that he contracted malaria was beaten and deprived of sleep. Human Rights Watch reported that he was "badly tortured" and stripped of his monk's robs.
In 2011 Amnesty International identified Gambira as a “prisoner of conscience” and stated that he was being denied medical treatment necessary to mitigate complications from being tortured while in Hkamti prison in April 2009. The Democratic Voice of Burma reported that Gambira was being regularly beaten by guards during the same period and was having seizures as a result.
In 2012 he he was obliged to formally disrobe and return to layman status after he was refused entry to several monasteries, which were apparently fearful of his “political status”.
(Reported by RFA's Myanmar Service. Translated by Khin Maung Nyane. Written in English by Brooks Boliek)