BANGKOK (AlertNet) - Ashin Gambira, a monk and activist, was among 302 political prisoners freed by the Myanmar authorities last week. The releases are part of an effort to speed up national reconciliation after November 2011 elections saw the country’s military nominally hand over power to civilian officials.
Ashin Gambira played a pivotal role in Myanmar’s Saffron Revolution – the 2007 protests led by monks calling for democratic change. He founded the All Burma Monks’ Alliance (ABMA) with five other monks which was instrumental in getting thousands of monks onto the streets to join popular protests initiated by pro-democracy activists. The demonstrations were crushed by the military and Ashin Gambira was sentenced to 68 years in prison, later reduced to 63 years.
Can you tell us more about the Saffron Revolution and how you were arrested?
We Buddhist monks just made efforts with our loving kindness to help the people peacefully get over the cruel oppression of the military dictatorship.
Then, I was arrested by MAS (Military Affairs Security – military intelligence) on November 4, 2007 in Sint-gai, near Mandalay, while I was in hiding after the crackdowns on our Saffron Revolution. They treated me very cruelly when they arrested me and during interrogation in Mandalay.
The MAS then transferred me to the Special Branch under the police. The SB continued interrogations inside Insein Prison. The SB was also rough in their ways. No sleep at all.
Then I was sentenced to 68 years in jail after about two months of interrogation. First I was kept in Insein prison, and then in Mandalay. I was in solitary confinement in both prisons.
What was prison like?
When I staged a hunger strike in Mandalay, I was moved to Hkamti (about 1,000 miles northwest of Yangon, near the Indian border). Things were worse there. There was solitary confinement and I often got beaten by prison staff. They are very rude and cruel.
There were no rights and no medical care for the prisoners at all. In fact, these are just the results of the system, of the military dictatorship.
I won’t elaborate on it. Let bygones be bygones. It’s just because of the military authoritarian system.
How did that affect your health?
My health started to deteriorate. In fact, my health had already started to get bad while I was on the run. After many sleepless nights and non-stop interrogation it became worse.
Then they moved me to Kalay, also in Sagaing Division, where I contracted malaria. And in October last year I was moved to Myaungmya in Ayeyawady Division.
What do you think of the situation in Myanmar now?
Of course, there are some changes, but change is inevitable. However, this is not real development. They have no other choice. We shouldn’t be satisfied with this. We shouldn’t settle for the present situation. There is a lot to be done.
Since the people were deprived of everything under a brutal regime for about 50 years, they tend to be satisfied when they get something, compared with nothing in the past. I’d like to stress that there is no room for complacency at present.
For example, there are still prisoners of conscience behind bars. In fact, they were all sent to jail on various fabricated charges by an illegitimate regime. In a democratic nation, there shouldn’t be any prisoners of conscience and ethnic rebellion.
We still have to work hard so that genuine democracy and human rights will emerge and prevail in our country. Only then, will there be peace, stability and good living conditions for the entire population.
Since all these things depend on the system, we need to change the constitution. It’s unavoidable. I’m determined to keep striving till we achieve the final goal.