12 years for 'Saffron Revolution' monk

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A Buddhist monk who helped organise last year's "Saffron Revolution" against the Burmese junta has been sentenced to a dozen years in jail by a secret court in Rangoon.

Ashin Gambira, 29, was sentenced by the court operating inside the city's notorious Insein Jail. Reports suggest that the sentencing process has not yet been completed and that the monk could be jailed for longer once other charges are brought against him.

Mr Gambira was one of the founders of the All Burmese Monks' Alliance which helped organise the massive protests against the Burmese authorities in September last year. Rocked by the peaceful protests that saw tens of thousands of monks and ordinary people take to the streets of the country's biggest cities, the authorities responded with a violent crack-down that left dozens of people dead. Thousands of monks and citizens were arrested.

In the aftermath of the demonstrations, Mr Gambira went into hiding but was arrested a year ago with his father in Sintgaing Township, near Mandalay. The authorities later forcibly disrobed him, in contravention of Buddhist traditions.

A source close to Mr Gambira yesterday told the Irrawaddy magazine that the monk had been charged with a variety of offences relating to public order and that more were likely to follow. "His case hasn't been closed yet," said the source. "There are still other charges being brought against him." At least four other people received lengthy sentences.

The sentences are just the latest part of a crackdown on dissidents by the regime. Last week, the court handed down sentences of 65 years to members of the 88 Students Generation, the group who led demonstrations against the regime in 1988 and whose small-scale protests in the summer of last year preceded the Saffron Revolution.

Reports say that the authorities, working around the clock, have dispatched many of the prisoners to jails far from Rangoon in order to make it more difficult for their relatives to visit. Among those jailed was Min Ko Naing, whose name means "conqueror of kings", and who is Burma's best-known dissident after imprisoned democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

Yesterday, UN investigators who report to the report to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, said the trials being held in Rangoon were unfair and that the prisoners should be retried in open courts. "The closed-door hearings are being held inside prisons by courts which lack independence and impartiality," they said.