Burmese jail over 700 monks
Burmese jail over 700 monks
Friday, 5th September 2008. 4:24pm
By: George Conger.
Over 700 monks have been jailed by the Burmese military junta since the introduction of martial law in 1988, the Burma Lawyers’ Council (BLC) reported on Sept 2, with at least 19 having died while in custody.
The statistics on the government’s jailing of Buddhist monks for pro-democracy activities comes at the start of the trial of the Ven U Gambira, leader of Burma’s “Saffron Revolution.”
An increase in fuel prices in August 2007 by the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) — the formal name of the military junta that seized power in 1988 — prompted protests. On Sept 21, 2007 U Gambira, the 29-year-old leader of the All-Burma Union of Monks, organized a demonstration against the price hikes. The demands soon grew to include the release of political prisoners and for talks between democracy activists and the regime.
Within days the monks’ protest drew support from the people of Yangon [Rangoon], and a week of demonstrations that brought 100,000 people into the streets in support of the Saffron Revolution ensued. The police responded with force, and an estimated 3,000 demonstrators were killed. Gambira escaped the crackdown and went into hiding. However, he turned himself in to the authorities after members of his family were allegedly threatened by the regime. The Buddhist abbot has been held at Rangoon’s Insein prison awaiting trial on treason and sedition charges.
His lawyers from the BLC have protested the regime’s treatment of their client, and have called for the abolition of laws that call for the shackling of political prisoners and forbid monks from wearing their robes in court. U Myo of the BLC said their client would not attend the first day of trial on Sept 3 while shackled and in prison garb “because the trial of a disrobed monk damages the dignity of the monks and the Sasana [Buddhist congregation],” he said, according to a report from the Democratic Voice of Burma (DVB). The DVB also reports that police have begun a detailed census of all Buddhist monks in Rangoon, requiring them to give the names and addresses of their families, as well as their own personal information — an action seen as a veiled threat to the monks should they come out in protest this month on the anniversary of the failed uprising.
Christian leaders in Burma have also come under government scrutiny in recent days. Clergy in the northern town of Chibwe were interrogated by police last month following an illegal poster campaign protesting the construction of a dam.
Kachin Development Network chairman U Aung Wah said clergy were summoned for interrogation by local authorities on July 13 and 24. “The male and female pastors were called to the police station one at a time and pressured to find out who was behind the posters – the officials insisted that they knew there was a link between the pastors and the poster campaign,” said Aung Wah.
“They were forced to sign an agreement saying that they would find out who the culprits were,” he said.
The dam project is a joint venture between a Chinese company and a military controlled Burmese concern, Myanmar-Asia World Company. Kachin farmers have been driven off their land by the army to build the dam. “They have seized gardens and farmland from the locals and the project has destroyed all the roads in the area,” Aung Wa said.