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Myanmar’s arrest of a Saffron Revolution leader shows the bad old days aren’t quite over

Reuters/Soe Zeya Tun
Gambira after his release in January 2012.
  • Steve Mollman
By Steve Mollman

Weekend editor

Published This article is more than 2 years old.

Recent elections have raised hopes and expectations in Myanmar, a nation long ruled by a brutal military junta. In November 2015 the National League for Democracy, led by Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi, won a sweeping victory. A new parliament will convene on Feb. 1, possibly paving the way to democracy.

But in the meantime, it appears old habits die hard for the repressive forces still in charge. On Tuesday (Jan. 19) in Mandalay, police arrested Nyi Nyi Lwin, a former monk and leader of the 2007 Saffron Revolution. Known as Gambira, he was arrested for immigration offenses, according to Irrawaddy, a widely read news magazine.

In 2008 Gambira was sentenced to 63 years in prison for this role in the Saffron Revolution, which saw monks marching against the junta’s oppressive rule. He was freed in January 2012 as part of political reforms, and re-arrested a number of times before being released again.

Since then he’s split his time between Myanmar and neighboring Thailand. Gambira’s wife, Marie Siochana, said the couple was in Mandalay this month so Gambira could apply for a passport to visit Australia, where she lives. Police apprehended him in his hotel.

Gambira appeared in court yesterday, charged with illegally crossing the border.

“I think the immigration officials think he went to Thailand illegally,” Siochana told Irrawaddy. “Actually, he has the official permit and a non-Thai immigration card.”

A day before Gambira’s arrest, Antony Blinken, the US deputy secretary of state, called upon the current government to complete the transitional process and release all political prisoners. Judging by the arrest of Gambira, they didn’t fully heed his message.

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