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Movement Seeks Freedom for Revolutionary Buddhist Monk in Myanmar

by Nora E. Rowley, MD MPH, Salem-News.com, December 10, 2012

U Gambira released but not free, pending trial without medical treatment.

CHICAGO, USA -- U Gambira, aka Nyi Nyi Lwin, was released on bail from Insein Prison, Yangon, Myanmar. He is with family and headed back to his family home 3 hours north of Yangon.

<< U Gambira

Despite the good news of this current release, U Gambira is not free. The government still has a trial date set for Friday December 14, 2012. This is the third re-arrest since his conditional release in January 2012 with other high profile political prisoners. The current official reason and charges surround the Feb 2012 U Gambira and other monks accessing their old monasteries, which were locked by the military government after the 2007 Saffron Revolution. U Gambira was arrested and released immediately after this Feb 2012 event.

U Gambira's conditional release is such that he is likely to be sentenced to the remaining years of his 68 year sentence handed down at his 2008 trial for his leadership role in the 2007 Saffron Revolution, in addition to new charges from 2012.

U Gambira's over 4 year political imprisonment included sustained and prolonged psychological and physical torture, no medical attention for injuries or illnesses. He suffered repeated head trauma that caused immediate and persistent traumatic brain injury.

He has been suffering from post traumatic stress disorder and clinical depression directly related to his initial imprisonment and post-conditional release re-arrests, constant military intelligence overt and covert harassment and spying. He was unable to obtain a position in a monastery, which forced him to de-robe in order to live with his family. Health care providers have refused to see him for fear of government retaliation. A doctor family friend saw him and prescribed a medicine that improved his sleep disturbances. This relief was inadequate and short lived as the medicine ran out.

U Gambira has been in need of specific torture survivor and traumatic brain injury evaluation and treatment, which is not available inside Myanmar or nearby Thailand. U Gambira has agreed to specialized treatment for his illnesses overseas. But, he remains dedicated to spreading to increasing the love, understanding and peaceful co-existence and oneness, ie the Buddhist teachings and Metta, inside Myanmar. Therefore, he will not leave Myanmar illegally to pursue treatment that he desperately wants and needs. He cannot apply for a passport without his national identity card, which the government confiscated. June 2012, he first applied for the return of his national identity card, without success as of Dec 1, 2012.


Since their release from prison late last week, Ashin Gambira and Ashin Issariya (aka Daung Dsaw) have moved in to Meggin Monsatery in Rangoon. They plan to rebuild and reopen this monastery that was destroyed by the Burmese regime following the Saffron Revolution of 2007. Both monks are now joined by the abbot of the monastery, Ashin Win Deka. Shortly after the monks started working in the disheveled monastery, authorities arrived and questioned them. U Gambira and U Issariya told them that this is their monastery, and they can not to go another monastery — they do not have any other place to go.

Meggin Monastery was demolished by soldiers during the brutal crackdown on the monks’ uprising in 2007. Most monks were arrested, and the monastery locked. It had been closed ever since. Meggin Monastery is one of the more than 60 monasteries that were raided, closed, and destroyed during the crackdown.

Ashin Gambira insisted in a recent interview that the military regime still needs to apologize to the Buddhist< Sangha.

“The government has transformed its external appearance into a civilian one, but their efforts to implement democracy are still rather weak, while many cases of human rights violations continue,” he told DVB. The alms boycott (Pattanikkujjana) is still in place.

Ashin Issariya (aka King Zero) says the pressure on monks is still very strong. There is no freedom of speech. Shwe Nya Wah Sayadaw, for example, was recently banned from giving Dhamma talks for one year, and was threatened with closure of his monastery.

He was accused of giving a sermon at the Mandalay headquarters of the National League for Democracy (NLD) on November 20, 2011. The Maha Nayaka Sangha Council refused his apology letter with more than 10,000 signatures and asked him to appear in front of the council on January 19.

U Gambira said, “People are talking about change in Burma, but I never see any change. It still is the same as before.”

“We want to see a real change,” adds Ashin Issariya aka King Zero.

Thirty monks have had a re-ordination ceremony in Rangoon since being released recently from prison.

However, it is difficult to find out how many monks are still incarcerated.

“The monks from our network have been released,” says Ashin Issariya. “But there is no reliable data of how many other monks still remain in prison.”

This is due to the fact that Burmese leaders waver on even acknowledging that Burma has political prisoners.

If people are arrested, they are often charged with criminal offenses, such as the Electronics Act. Ashin Pannasiri was arrested shortly after the Saffron Revolution and indicted not for his anti-military and pro- democracy activities, but for holding foreign currency.

When asked about going back to Burma, Ashin Issariya answers: “We don’t know if it is safe to go back now for those who had to flee Burma. I will go back one day. But that needs preparation and will take time.”

Ashin Sopaka remains under village arrest at this time. We have not been able to make contact with him for several weeks now. The only way of contact is through the village phone, but the villagers can’t give us any detailed information. We only know that he is still in the monastery in his home village.

“I am sure if Ashin Sopaka had a chance to leave his village, he would go back to Mandalay to connect with others. He is in a very small village, far away from the city. He can not do anything there. So the fact that he hasn’t come back yet means that he is still under village arrest,” said Ashin Issariya.

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