Burma: monks leader faces death penalty

Amnesty International today admitted that it has deep concern over the future of U Gambira, the 27-year-old leader of the All-Burma Monks Alliance (ABMA).

The ABMA was instrumental in getting thousands of monks onto the streets in pro-democracy demonstrations at the end of September this year. The protests came to an end after a brutal crackdown by the country’s ruling military junta, which left at least 13 people dead and hundreds injured.

Kate Allen, Director of Amnesty International UK, said:

“U Gambira went into hiding shortly after the crackdown, but Amnesty International has now received reliable reports that he has been arrested and charged with treason for his role in the demonstrations. If convicted he faces either life imprisonment or the death sentence.

“His exact whereabouts remain unclear and Amnesty International believes he is in grave danger of torture or ill-treatment.”

Other members of his family have been arrested as “hostages” in an attempt to force him out of hiding, including his brother Aung Kyaw Kyaw, who was arrested in October, and his father Min Lwin. Both are still being detained, and like U Gambira, Amnesty does not know where they are being held and has fears over their safety.

Meanwhile, the well-known labour rights activist Su Su Nway has also been arrested. She was arrested on 13 November in Rangoon after attempting to put up leaflets during the recent visit by the UN Special Rapporteur to investigate human rights abuses in Burma. She is being held in Insein Prison in Rangoon.

Amnesty International has called on its 2.2 million members worldwide to write to Burma’s head of state, the Chairman of the State Peace and Development Council, Senior General Than Shwe, and the country’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Nyan Win, to express their fears for the safety of the four.

Background:

· Peaceful demonstrations began in August sparked by sharp increases in fuel prices. Protests by monks grew rapidly in size and number, calling for a reduction in commodity prices, the release of political prisoners and a process of national reconciliation to resolve deep political divisions. In the evening of 25 September, the authorities began a crackdown on protestors, including raiding monasteries, arresting monks and others, and imposing a curfew, forcing some activists into hiding.

· Thousands of people are believed to have been arrested and Amnesty International estimates that around 700 currently remain in detention, in contrast to claims by the Burmese authorities that only 91 people, against whom legal action will be taken, remain in detention.

· At least 17 people have been sentenced to up to nine and a half years imprisonment in connection with the demonstrations, in proceedings likely to have been closed and grossly flawed.

· While the number of arrests has declined since 29 September, state security personnel have continued to search for and detain specific individuals suspected of involvement in the anti-government protests, primarily through night raids on homes. The authorities have also resorted to arbitrary and unlawful detention of family members or close friends and suspected sympathisers of protesters currently in hiding. Such action also constitutes "hostage taking" - explicit or implicit pressure on the suspected protestors to come forward as a condition for releasing or not harming the hostage. This is a violation of fundamental rules of international law.

· Human rights violations in Burma are widespread and systematic. They include the use of child soldiers and forced labour. Laws criminalise expression of peaceful dissent. Most senior opposition figures are imprisoned or detained, among more than 1,150 political prisoners held in deteriorating prison conditions. People are frequently arrested without warrant and held incommunicado; torture and other cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment are common, especially during interrogation and in custody awaiting trial. Judicial proceedings against political detainees fall short of international standards for fair trial. Defendants are often denied the right to legal counsel and prosecutors have relied on confessions extracted through torture.

· Su Su Nway is a member of the youth wing of the main opposition party, the National League for Democracy. She had previously been imprisoned after successfully taking legal action against village authorities over their use of forced labour. The officials concerned received prison terms, following which Su Su Nway was charged with criminal intimidation and sentenced to 18 months imprisonment in October 2005. She was released in June 2006.

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