by Ko Wine
Monday, 19 January 2009 23:58
Chiang Mai (Mizzima) – Residents in Mandalay who have close contact with Mandalay’s Obo prison say that Ashin Gambira, a leading monk during the Saffron Revolution, is on hunger strike.
He is reportedly staging a hunger strike in Mandalay’s Obo prison while waiting to be transferred to Khamti prison in Sagaing Division, following a transfer order from higher authorities.
“Ashin Gambira, it is sure, has been on hunger strike since the 13th of this month. Now it’s been seven days,” a resident from Mandalay who has close contact with the prison told Mizzima.
However, for security reasons, the resident declined to reveal his source inside the prison.
Additionally, all political prisoners were previously allowed to fortnightly meet with family members. And family members of Ashin Gambira had met with him twice and were able to give him parcels. But on the 14th of this month, family members could neither meet with nor give parcels to the detained monk.
“They came last Wednesday to meet him but could not meet him or give him a parcel. The authorities didn’t give any reason for their denial, just saying to come next Wednesday. That’s all. His mother, worrying about her son, said, ‘Something might happen to my son, all others except my son are allowed to meet their loved ones’,” according to a resident from Mandalay.
However, despite the insistence of local residents who have close contacts with Obo prison, Mizzima has not yet been able to verify the news of the hunger strike with independent sources.
On the 19th of November last year, the Kemmendine Township court heard Ashin Gambira’s case inside Insein prison and gave him a 12 year prison term for three offences, including ‘insulting religion’ and ‘committing a crime against public tranquility’.
Then, two days later, the Kamayut and Ahlone Township courts handed down judgment on a total of 13 additional cases against him, eventually bringing his sentencing to a total of 68 years in detention.
Ashin Gambira (29) joined September 2007’s Saffron Revolution as one of the leading monks while pursuing his ‘Dhamasaria’ religious studies.
After the Saffron Revolution he was on the run from arrest for over a month before finally being apprehended on the 4th of November 2007 in Singai Township, Mandalay Division.
In addition to Ashin Gambira, another political prisoner recently denied a meeting with family members is 88 generation student Ko Pyone Cho.
Ko Pyone Cho’s father, U Win Maung, who has just returned from attempting to visit his son, said, “I arrived back here at about one a.m. last night. I could not meet my son. The authorities didn’t give any clear reason. They just said it was by order of higher authority. When I asked if I could meet him at the end of this month, saying I would wait until that time, they replied that they could not make any guarantee. They said they must act in accordance with the order given by their higher authority. They also said they felt sorry, but could not do anything.”
Ko Pyone Cho’s wife was in the beginning of December allowed to meet with her detained husband. At that time, his health condition was good except for high blood pressure, and prison authorities gave him medicine as prescribed by the prison doctor, said U Win Maung.
“My son said that he got medicine. At that time, the weather was not yet so cold. Now, when I visited there, it’s getting cold. Cold wind is blowing 24 hours a day. We gave warm clothes and blankets to prison authorities for my son when we visited him last time. We could give a parcel to him this time too through the prison authorities, but we could not meet him. The prison authorities apologized, but assured us they will give all the stuff left with them to my son,” explained Ko Pyone Cho’s father.
U Win Maung left Rangoon to meet his son on the 8th of this month.
He spent two days each in Mergui and Tavoy on the way to Kawthaung. It was at this time that he first heard news of political prisoners not being allowed to meet with family members. But he hoped he would still be allowed to meet his son in Kawthaung and proceeded with his travels.
“I felt sorry and am still worrying about him. Though they said he is in good health, I cannot accept this good news without meeting my son myself. The weather is changing. I can only speak of the condition of his health, his progress and his morale when I can see him in person myself. I hope I will not experience this same situation again next time. I demanded they [prison authorities] let us meet with my son at the earliest possible time,” U Win Maung said.