Myanmar: Activist monk faces legal action; authorities lift rally ban after NLD complaint

Updated On: Feb 20, 2012

A Buddhist monk jailed for his role in the Saffron Revolution protests in 2007 now faces new legal action by the authorities. Shin Gambira was released in a 13 January amnesty, but authorities say he has "repeatedly broken Buddhist monks' code of conduct and the law".

Legal Action

According to the state-run New Light of Myanmar newspaper, Shin Gambira is facing charges of “squatting” illegally in a monastery shut down by the government after the mass street protests five years ago. He also allegedly broke into two other closed monasteries.

Media reports accused him of rejoining his religious order without requesting permission. Shin Gambira, 33, was a leader of the Alliance of All Burma Buddhist Monks that led the protest known as the Saffron Revolution in 2007.

Brief Detention

The State Sangha Maha Nayaka Committee (SSMNC), the highest body of Myanmar's state-sponsored Buddhist monks' organisation, had summoned Shin Gambira three times for questioning on his activities. But he failed to show up, so police were asked to bring him in on 10 February.

According to reports, Shin Gambira told the SSMNC that he did not need permission to rejoin the order of monks, and so would not ask for it.

The United States, which has made the freeing of political prisoners one of its conditions for easing sanctions on Myanmar imposed when the junta was in power, had expressed concern at his brief detention this month.

Shin Gambira was arrested in November 2007 and sentenced to 68 years in jail. He told Reuters after his release in January that he had been badly treated, both physically and mentally, during his interrogation and in jail.

Among other complaints, Gambira alleged that the central, state-sponsored central Buddhist monk’s body, the State Sangha Nayaka Committee, had not pushed for the freedom of 43 other monks arrested after the 2007 uprising.

The New Light of Myanmar said that and other complaints were “a slap in the face” to the central monks’ body. As a result, the religious body has monk body asked authorities to take legal action against Shin Gambira, who will be charged and tried by the state.

Report: Prominent activist monk faces legal action in Myanmar [Reuters, 20 Feb 2012]

Report: Myanmar state media: dissident monk facing fresh legal charges [Washington Post (AP), 19 Feb 2012]

Reform in Question?

The case against Shin Gambira raises some questions about how much authorities in Myanmar will tolerate dissent, even amidst a climate of reform. Shin Gambira himself has apparently been highly sceptical about his country's reforms.

On Monday, National League for Democracy (NLD) spokesman Nyan Win said restrictions on his party's campaigning risks making upcoming by-elections unfair. He said the party faces difficulty in getting permission to use public venues for its meetings.

Hours after the NLB's complaint, Myanmar's election authorities said a ministerial order restricting campaign rallies had been lifted. The Union Election Commission (UEC) contacted Suu Kyi's NLD party, which boycotted the 2010 election, to tell the party that a ban on the use of sports grounds, which prevented a February 14 rally from taking place, was no longer in effect.

The April 1 by-election vote for 48 vacant seats, mostly in the lower house, will be closely watched by the international community, with a fair contest demanded by Western countries currently reviewing their policies on sanctions in response to democratic reforms by the new civilian government.

Report: Myanmar opposition party complains of restrictions [Straits Times (AP), 20 Feb 2012]

Report: Myanmar lifts rally ban after Suu Kyi's party complains [Reuters, 20 Feb 2012]

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