Fresh Charges for Activist Monk

A key leader of Burma's 2007 pro-democracy Saffron Revolution faces new legal action a month after his prison release.
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U Gambira is shown as a Buddhist monk in a file photo.
U Gambira is shown as a Buddhist monk in a file photo.

Burmese authorities are bringing fresh charges against prominent dissident monk Shin Gambira a month after releasing him from jail, state media and sources in Burma said Sunday.

Gambira, who led a 2007 uprising against Burma's former military junta, had since his January release begun unilaterally reopening monasteries locked up by the authorities for more than four years.

He had also expressed doubt over the seriousness of President Thein Sein's nominally civilian government's commitment to democratic reforms.

The state-run New Light of Myanmar newspaper said Sunday that Gambira is accused of breaking into two monasteries sealed by police and illegally “squatting” at a monastery. 

The 33-year-old monk has also “repeatedly broken the Buddhist monks’ code of conduct and the law,” it said, adding that the authorities are taking steps to bring him to trial at the request of the State Sangha Nayaka, the central monks’ council.


Gambira was among several prominent political prisoners released on Jan. 13 as part of an amnesty by the government which has been implementing a series of reforms after decades of harsh military rule.

Since his release, he has spoken critically of the government.

A monk from the Magin Monastery in the eastern suburbs of Burma's largest city Rangoon where Gambira had stayed after his release told RFA that Gambira had entered monasteries sealed in the crackdown following the 2007 protests.

“The monastery had already been sealed by the authorities when [Gambira] was released from jail. Then he broke the doors and stayed there with other monks," said the monk, who did not give his name.

"And then the authorities asked the monks to leave the building as it was against the law. Monks had to leave and the authorities sealed it again."

A week later, Burma's religious minister himself came and reopened the monasteries, the monk said.

“Is it against the law that a monk, arrested unfairly, opens his own monastery which was also closed unfairly?” he asked. 


Ashin Eindaka, the abbot of the Magin monastery, said Gambira had moved to another nearby monastery in North Dagon by Friday.

"Then I saw a newspaper report which accused him of going against the law,” he said.

Eindaka said he did not know where Gambira was, but that he may be traveling with another monk who has also faced censure from the State Sangha Nayaka.

“I’ve heard that he accompanied the Shwe Nya Wa abbot to Hmawbi” township, northwest of Rangoon, he said.

The abbot of Shwe Nya Wa monastery was expelled from his monastery by the State Sangha Nayaka council last month after speaking at pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi's opposition National League for Democracy's gatherings in Mandalay, Burma's second-largest city north of Rangoon.


On Feb. 10, Gambira was briefly detained by police and summoned to meet with the council. The detention drew sharp criticism from the U.S. government, which has made the freeing of political prisoners one of its conditions for removing sanctions.

Gambira, a monk since age 12, began organizing monks to refuse to provide religious services to members of the military and their families in early 2007.

He was ordered jailed for 69 years for spearheading the 2007 Saffron Revolution that ended in a brutal government crackdown with at least 31 people killed and hundreds of others beaten and detained.

Reported by RFA's Burmese service. Translated by Maung Maung Nyo. Written in English by Rachel Vandenbrink.





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