Leader of Myanmar's 'Saffron Revolution' freed, charges dropped

Nyi Nyi Lwin walking out of a court in Mandalay on April 26.
Nyi Nyi Lwin walking out of a court in Mandalay on April 26.PHOTO: AFP

YANGON (REUTERS) - A former monk and influential leader of Myanmar's 2007 anti-junta uprising has been freed from jail and charges against him dropped, his lawyer said on Friday (July 1), just a day after new charges were levelled against him.

Nyi Nyi Lwin, better known by his ordination name, Gambira, was arrested in January for allegedly entering Myanmar illegally from neighbouring Thailand.

He had been set to be freed on Friday, but on both Tuesday and Thursday new charges stemming from alleged trespassing in 2012 were brought against him in two separate Yangon townships.

Robert San Aung, his lawyer, said on Friday that these charges had been dropped and that Gambira was now free. "They (the judge) just said the he was freed completely after cancelling all the charges against," he said.

 

Gambira told Reuters by phone that he was happy with the decision and would now focus on his health. "I'm very happy to be free again. At the moment I have to receive medical treatment for my mental illness and post traumatic stress disorder," he said.

The additional charges this week were brought against Gambira for allegedly breaking into monasteries in 2012 that had been sealed by the government.

In 2007, Gambira emerged as a leading figure in a mass protest over living conditions and the oppressive rule of then-dictator Than Shwe that was dubbed the Saffron Revolution.

The government cracked down harshly in response, opening fire on protesters and sweeping up those who took part. A report from the United Nations found that at least 31 people were killed by security forces and thousands arrested.

Gambira was arrested in 2007 and his sentence of 68 years for his role in the protest turned him into one of Myanmar's most prominent political prisoners. He was released in 2012.

Following his release, he said that he had been tortured while in jail, suffering through solitary confinement, beatings and sleep deprivation.

Amnesty International has said that he suffers from "serious mental health issues" due to time and treatment behind bars.

The group said it was concerned that the additional charges brought this week were "politically motivated" and related to his actions during the Saffron Revolution.