Burma Monks’ Leader Urges Resistance

A leader of the 2007 Saffron Revolution is still fighting back from a remote prison in northern Burma.

2009-03-18
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U-Gambira-family-305.gif U Gambira's family, including (L to R) his elder sister, mother Daw Yay, elder brother Aung Kyaw Kyaw, an unknown monk, and U Gambira.
Photo courtesy of Moemaka

BANGKOK—A leader of Burma’s 2007 Saffron Revolution, U Gambira, is urging the Burmese people to carry on in resisting the military government and has agreed to appeal his conviction and lengthy prison sentence, according to his mother.

U Gambira, leader of the All-Burma Monks Alliance, is serving a 69-year jail term in Khandee prison for his role in the 2007 protests. He was transferred from Mandalay prison in February after staging a hunger strike there.

His mother, Daw Yay, said that when she visited her son in prison he quoted Burma’s late independence hero Gen. Aung San, father of detained opposition leader and Nobel peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi.

“If one wants [to follow] the way of the Buddha, one must practice Buddhism. If one wants independence, one must practice the way towards independence,” she quoted U Gambira as saying.

“He is continuing along that same road,” she said.

Hunger strike

U Gambira began a hunger strike Feb. 15 in Mandalay prison to demand the release of Aung San Suu Kyi and other political prisoners, prompting authorities to transfer him in iron shackles to remote Kamdee prison in the north of the country, she said.

“The trip from Mandalay to Kamdee prison was like being sent to Hell alive,” she said, adding that it required a three-day boat trip from Monywa to Homalin. “I was in the middle seat of the boat without a back rest. It was very uncomfortable.”

“My life, and my family’s life, is just clockwork now. We eat and sleep like robots. There is no life in our bodies,” she said, calling on the authorities to free all political prisoners on humanitarian grounds.

“The ordeal we are going through—it’s a punishment for our entire family.”

Daw Yay said that she had persuaded her son to appeal his conviction for treason, although he initially refused, and that she would travel from her home in Mandalay to the former capital, Rangoon, to file papers on his behalf.

Crackdown

U Gambira—who became a novice monk at 12 and led the 2007 uprising at age 29—was arrested at a hiding place in Kyaukse, central Burma, in early November 2007, weeks after a violent crackdown on protesters left dozens dead and thousands in custody.

One of U Gambira’s close associates, Ashin Panna Siri, escaped from a Burmese prison camp and fled to India. He described torture and backbreaking hard labor in custody.

Even monks handed only brief sentences for their roles in the 2007 uprising were sent to hard labor camps, a punishment usually reserved for those handed longer terms, he said.

Ashin Panna Siri hid with U Gambira after the crackdown. Arrested on Oct. 18, 2007, he spent seven months in Monywa prison before he was convicted and sent to hard labor.

Original reporting by Thin Aung Khine for RFA's Burmese service. Burmese service director: Nancy Shwe. Translated by Soe Thinn. Written for the Web in English by Sarah Jackson-Han.

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