Ex-monk who led uprising detained in Myanmar

Yangon on October 5, 2007. Source: Wikimedia

A former monk who led the 2007 street protests in Myanmar, misleadingly known as the Saffron Revolution, has appeared in court in Mandalay charged with immigration offences.

Nyi Nyi Lwin, better known as Gambira, has been living in Thailand and returned to Myanmar in an apparent attempt to obtain a Burmese passport.

He was one of the most prominent monks during the Saffron Revolution. The term would have made more sense in Thailand, where the monks wear saffron robes, as opposed to Myanmar where the monks dress in burgundy.

In 2007, Gambira emerged as a leading figure in the protest over living conditions and the oppressive rule of then-dictator Than Shwe.

The government cracked down harshly in response, opening fire on protesters and arresting up those who took part.

As leader of the All Burma Monks Alliance he helped organise weeks of protest against the military regime, which has since allowed a partial return to democracy after decades of dictatorship.

Gambira’s Australian wife said the couple wanted a passport so they could visit Australia.

“I’m worried about him because he can’t get bail,” Marie Siochana said. “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.”

He is charged with illegally crossing the border although the government has a long history of harassing its opponents.

Gambira was sentenced to 68 years in prison in 2008 for his role in the demonstrations but was released in a 2012 amnesty.

He and Amnesty International claimed he was tortured and severely beaten in jail.

The former monk moved to Thailand after being re-arrested several times.

Gambira’s arrest comes two days after US Assistant Secretary of State Antony Blinken visited Myanmar and called for the release of all political prisoners.

“Remaining political prisoners must be released and human rights protected for all, no matter what their ethnicity or religion,” Blinken said.

A new parliament dominated by Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy will sit on February 1, with rights groups calling for it to prioritise the release of political prisoners.