Former Saffron Revolution monk U Gambira was convicted yesterday of what critics have called spurious and politically motivated charges.
The Maha Aung Myay Court in Mandalay sentenced U Gambira, who has a documented case of post-traumatic stress disorder related to time he served as a political prisoner following the 2007 uprising, for six months. He has already been detained for over three months, and his sentence could be reduced for time served.
He is being held in the same prison where he was tortured as a former inmate for four years before his 68-year sentence was commuted in 2012. But the court repeatedly denied requests to grant bail to the prominent activist on mental health grounds. Letters from U Gambira’s physician in Thailand were rejected and the prosecution’s lawyer alleged that claims of poor health were fabricated.
The judge yesterday said U Gambira, whose legal name is U Nyi Nyi Lwin, had been found guilty of violating section 13(A) of the 1947 Immigration Act, also called the Emergency Provisions Act. In the verdict, the judge said U Gambira had failed to provide proof of a valid entry at the border crossing, and gave no evidence to validate claims that he had paid overstay fines owed to both Myanmar and Thailand. The offense of returning without official documents is punishable by up to five years and a fee.
U Gambira was arrested at the end of January at a hotel in Mandalay where he was travelling with his wife.
U Gambira reacted to the verdict with disappointment. He said the judiciary was damaged and the new government has a responsibility to repair it. He requested the National League for Democracy-backed administration release all remaining political inmates.
His mother, Daw Yya, said she was surprised by the court’s verdict but doubts her son will be held much longer. “This decision was made in a period of change. U Gambira will probably be released soon together with all the last political prisoners,” she said.
International rights groups strongly condemned yesterday’s ruling, calling the conviction “appalling”.
“Today’s verdict against U Gambira casts a shadow over recent attempts by Myanmar’s new government to release all prisoners of conscience in the country, and we urge them to act swiftly to ensure that he is released immediately and without conditions,” said Laura Haigh, a Myanmar researcher with Amnesty International. “Arrested before the new administration took power, U Gambira had clearly been targeted for his past human rights activities against the previous military government.”
Daw Aung San Suu Kyi had pledged before her administration took office that there would be no more political prisoners. Starting before Thingyan, more than 200 political prisoners, students and activists were released.
Spokespersons for the party could not be reached yesterday. U Zaw Htay, a spokesperson for the President’s Office, said he has “no idea” about the case.
Additional reporting by Laignee Barron