Myanmar activists protest jailing of ex-monk | Asia| An in-depth look at news from across the continent | DW | 10.12.2012
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Myanmar activists protest jailing of ex-monk

A former Buddhist monk Shin Gambira, who had been one of the top leaders of the 2007 popular uprising "saffron revolution" in Myanmar, has been jailed again, triggering international concerns.

Shin Gambira - also known as U Gambira - was already known for his criticism of human rights violations in the country when he was arrested on December 1.

The activist was leading a protest rally in support of monks who had demonstrated against the activities of a copper mine.

The Myanmar government has now apologized for the injuries to 99 monks and 11 others in last month's protest outside a giant northern Myanmar copper mine. Thousands of people have allegedly been evicted because of the operation.

However, Gambira remains in custody.

The 33-year-old former monk was jailed in 2008 for his role in a 2007 uprising. He was charged with the forced removal of locks of several monasteries which had been shut and sealed up by the government.

Members of a Muslim Rohingya family gather at the ruins of their home(Photo: Reuters)

Gambira has been praised for voicing rare support for the Rohingya minority

A judge then sentenced him to 68 years in jail. However, he was released in an amnesty in January along with other political prisoners.

Family voices health fears

Gambira's rearrest means he once again faces having to serve the decades-long sentence. In addition, there are family fears about Gambira's health, his brother Aung Kyaw Kyaw reported.

"He has been suffering from serious migraines and other health problems," Kyaw said. "He needs his medicines daily. But he was not allowed to carry along his medicines when he was arrested."

On his release in January, Gambira said that in jail he had been strapped to chair for weeks and regularly beaten. In April, for unknown reasons, he renounced monkhood and disrobed, to return to the life of an ordinary citizen.

Gambira's mother Daw Ray said last week that she believed her son had been arrested because of his fight against a northern Myanmar copper mining project - a joint venture between military-owned Myanmar Economic Holdings and a Chinese company.

Gambira was leading the campaign in support of thousands of villagers who alleged that their land had been confiscated to make way for the giant copper mine.

"The government feared that he would lead an even more powerful movement against the mine aiming even to stall its operation. So, the government has arrested him," said Gambira's mother.

International concerns

The international community has also voiced concern about the latest incarceration of Gambira.

A severely burnt Buddhist monk (C) receives treatment at a hospital after police fired water cannon and gas during a pre-dawn crackdown on villagers and monks (Photo: AFP/AFP/Getty Images)

The government apologized for beatings that left more than 100 people injured

British Minister of State for the Foreign Office, Hugo Swire, said last week that he would seek his unconditional release and other political prisoners when he visits Myanmar this week.

Meanwhile, the director of Burma Campaign UK Mark Farmaner said Gambira had been targeted for repeatedly raising the issues on human rights.

"Being jailed like this, where he not only faces new charges but also having to serve his original prison sentence of more than sixty years, appears to be a way the government of Burma is warning other activists not to strongly criticize the government," Farmaner told DW.

"U Gambira's arrest shows that the reform process is only skin deep, people who criticize the government still face imprisonment."

Chris Lewa, head of the Arakan Project, which campaigns for rights of the minority Rohingya ethnic group, said the rearrest of Gambira on "trumped-up charges brings back nightmares" from a recent past.

"U Gambira has so far been the only high profile Buddhist religious figure who dared raise his voice against sectarian violence in Arakan and, who strongly criticized Buddhist monks for participating in anti-Rohingya demonstrations and campaigns. Not even Daw Aung San Suu Kyi has done so," said Ms Lewa.

The rights campaigner added that Gambira could play a valuable role in reducing tensions and promoting peace in communally-tense Rakhine state.

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