TUESDAY, 14 FEBRUARY 2012
(Analysis) – It had the look of a classic right hand doesn’t know what the left hand is doing.
The arrest of Ashin Gambira on Friday by security police and his release only a few hours later had the earmarks of a problem cited by Burmese activists over and over. While the government’s leaders are encouraging participation of civil society in Burmese affairs, lower-level officials are exercising the same old heavy-handed tactics of repression, harassment and arrests on flimsy grounds.
Ashin Gambira, 33, was one of the leaders of the so-called Saffron Revolution, a 2007 anti-government uprising led by Buddhist monks against the then-ruling junta. He was detained shortly after a military crackdown on protesters and released Jan. 13 as part of a mass prisoner release that has been hailed as a sign of Burma new government’s willingness to make reforms.
Friday’s detention of Gambira had the dark echoes of the previous military government, which was known for whisking away opposition members in middle of the night raids on their homes or monasteries.
Gambira’s detention had immediate repercussions; signally the eyes of the world’s governments are evaluating every government action for signs of backsliding. It came at a time when many Burmese exiles are thinking of returning, but still have some doubts about the sincerity of the government, especially lower-level government workers who are often afraid of making personal decisions that differ from their past actions.
In Washington, hours after the detention and before word of Gambira’s release, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland expressed deep U.S. concern over the detention of the monk, who remains a skeptic of the true colors of President Thein Sein’s government.
The U.S. said it wanted to see Burma live up to its words on greater freedom and tolerance: “Given the Burmese government’s stated commitment to reform and democratization, we call on Burmese authorities to protect the fundamental freedoms of all its citizens, including all of those recently released from detention,” Nuland told a news briefing.
An official from the Home Ministry said that Gambira had been “taken away” from the Yangon monastery where he was staying and brought for “questioning in relation to incidents that happened after his release.” The official, who spoke on condition on anonymity, said that Gambira and other monks had illegally entered monasteries that had been shut after the 2007 uprising.
Authorities detained Gambira after he ignored a summons to report for questioning, the official said. He said Gambira was sent back to Maggin Monastery in the evening. It had been sealed by the authorities after the 2007 protests, but was reopened that evening, he said.
Observes note that the current government still seems to be especially sensitive to two areas of Burmese society: the sangha and the media.
The state sangha authority this week issued another one-year ban on preaching by a popular abbot known for his support of opposition groups. The ban on Ashin Pyinnyar Thiha of Thadu Pariyatti Monastery in Kyimyindaing Township in Rangoon follows a one-year preaching ban in 2011. The order followed his eviction from his teaching monastery by authorities.