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Calls for Monk's Release on Health Grounds

Irrawaddy News

Campaigners are demanding the release of an imprisoned leader of the All Burma Monks’ Alliance (ABMA) who helped organize the Saffron Revolution in 2007 and is now suffering from serious back pain as a consequence of being tortured under interrogated.

Ashin Gambira, who is currently serving a 63-year sentence in Kalay Prison, experiences a torrid time when the weather gets cold after repeated beatings and this winter is likely to be seriously detrimental to his health, claims his mother.

Speaking to The Irrawaddy on Wednesday, ABMA member Nanda Marlar said, “He was beaten on his back and head during interrogation and was even assaulted while the authorities moved him from prison to prison. He [Gambira] also doesn’t receive enough medical assistance or treatment.”

Kalay Prison is located in Sagaing Division in one of the most remote area of the country and is the third jail which Gambira has experienced. He was firstly detained in Rangoon's notorious Insein Prison but was transferred to Hkamti Prison towards the end of 2008. Gambira was convicted of many charges including immigration offences, illegal contact with banned and exiled organizations, and so on.

Ashin Gambira who is serving a 63-year sentence for his role in the Saffron Revolution (Photo: The Best Friend Library)
A former political prisoner who was detained in the cell next to Gambira said that he was transferred from Insein to Hkamti Prison because he quarelled with officials and insulted the regime’s former head, Than Shwe.

“Our monks have been tortured in both physical ways and mental ways. That’s the main thing for the new government to change,” said Nanda Marlar.

Twenty-six monks were included amongst the 6,359 prisoners that were released in mid-October,  according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners. But the group said that around 200 monks and nuns who were sentenced for their political actions are still serving prison terms across the country.

The Hong Kong-based Asian Human Rights Commissions (AHRC) also sent an open letter to the Burmese President and other top officials on Tuesday which called for urgent humanitarian intervention for 33-year-old Gambira.

It said that the AHRC is concerned about the monk's health after he suffered head and back injuries from assaults during a prison transfer and repeatedly at Hkamti Prison over a month.

The AHRC also quoted prisoners who were released in the second week of October during the presidential decree. They claim that Gambira suffers from fits in which he frequently cries out in pain and clutches at his head.

The prison authorities then hold him down to administer a drug via injection, probably a sedative, after which he goes quiet and falls unconscious. When he comes around, he slurs his speech.

The AHRC statement calls for the Burmese authorities to release Gambira without delay and added, “We also take this opportunity to again urge the International Committee of the Red Cross be given unimpeded access to all places of detention in Myanmar in accordance with its international mandate.”

Gambira was honored in 2008 for his leading role in the Saffron Revolution by UK-based Index on Censorship—one of the world’s leading magazines on free expression issues.

The network, which currently assists the families of political prisoners, also launched a statement on Wednesday which said that 15 political prisoners were starting a hunger strike until their sentences are reduced. Unlike criminal inmates, political prisoners are not normally allowed to have their prison terms cut short.

The statement said, “The lack of reducing prison terms for political prisoners is a violation of the 2008 Constitution. Article 347 of chapter 8 says that ‘the Union shall grant any person to enjoy equal rights before the law and shall equally provide legal protection.’”

According to the AAPP’s data, there are around 2,000 political prisoners in the country and roughly 200 of them were released in the second week of October under the presidential decree.

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