By WAI MOE
Three years after Burma's military regime crushed monk-led protests, at least 262 Buddhist monks and nuns remain behind bars.
Three years after Burma's military regime crushed monk-led protests in September 2007, at least 262 Buddhist monks and nuns remain behind bars, according to an exiled human rights group based in Thailand.
At an event marking the third anniversary of the uprising, known as the Saffron Revolution, the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners—Burma (AAPP) said that there are currently 256 monks and six nuns still in the country's notorious prisons, including some who are old and in poor health.
“According to our data, Burma holds more clerics behind bars than any other country. It is quite unfortunate that the Burmese military regime often claims it is promoting Buddhism,” said Bo Kyi, the joint-secretary of the AAPP.
“We have learned that the well-known leading monk Ashin Gambira, who is currently being held in Kale Prison [near the Indian-Burmese border], is not well due to torture and other mistreatment during interrogation and in prison,” he added.
Ashin Gambira was arrested in November 2007 and later sentenced to 63 years in prison for his role in the protests.
His sentence is second only to that of Ashin Nanda Vantha in its severity. Ashin Nanda Vantha, who is currently being held in Lashio Prison, in northern Shan State, is serving a 71-year sentence after being found guilty of a variety of charges related to the uprising.
More than 30 people are believed to have been killed when the military moved in to end the demonstrations, including Japanese photojournalist Kenji Nagai. No Burmese military official has ever been charged in connection with Nagai's murder, and despite repeated requests from the Japanese government, his belongings—including video footage of the military assault on protesters—have never been returned.
None of the victims' families are likely to see justice anytime soon. It has recently been learned that several of the leading commanders responsible for the crackdown have been promoted and may be in line to hold high-level positions after this year's election, which will see a return to ostensibly civilian rule.
It is believed that the crackdown was overseen by former Lt-Gen Myint Swe under the orders of the office of the Commander-in-Chief (Army). Assisting him in carrying out the orders was Maj-Gen Hla Htay Win, the then commander of the Rangoon Regional Military Command, and Brig-Gen Win Myint, the former commander of Light Infantry Division 77.
Myint Swe retired from his military post as part of a reshuffle in late August and is now a candidate of the junta-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) for the Rangoon regional parliament, running in Seikgyi Khanaungto Township.
Observers in Rangoon say he is tipped by junta head Snr-Gen Than Shwe to become chief minister of the Rangoon region, where Burma’s largest city and chief commercial hub are located, after the Nov. 7 election.
Hla Htay Win has also risen significantly since the crackdown. A year after the uprising was crushed, he was promoted from major general to lieutenant general and reappointed chief of armed forces training and made a member of the ruling State Peace and Development Council.
Win Myint, whose LID 77 was responsible for killing Nagai and an unknown number of protesters on Sept. 27, 2007, subsequently became Hla Htay Win's successor as Rangoon regional commander post and was promoted to major general. In the latest reshuffle, he was promoted to the position of military appointment general.
Marking the third anniversary of the Saffron Revolution—Burma's largest mass uprising against military rule in two decades—New York-based Human Rights Watch called for “an open and impartial investigation into the violence.”
In its statement, the group also called on the United States and Southeast Asian leaders to press the Burmese junta to end its escalating campaign of repression, release more than 2,100 political prisoners and start a genuine dialogue with the democratic opposition.
However, the regime shows no signs of relenting in its efforts to snuff out dissent. In February, it sentenced former political prisoner and monk Ashin Nyana to 22 years in prison for writing a Buddhist tract calling on monks to be more involved in worldly affairs. Currently held in Myitkyina Prison in Kachin State, he also served sentences in the 1980s and 1990s.