Just a few weeks ago, Ashin Gambira was seated in the front row of a Rangoon university building as President Barack Obama gave a cautious welcome to the reforms in Burma. The release earlier in the year of the former Buddhist monk, who had been ordered to serve a six-decade sentence for his role in the 2007 democracy uprising, was seen as one of the signs of a softening of oppression in the country that the US president referred to in his address.
But today Mr Gambira is back behind bars again, in what his family say is just the latest incident of harassment by the authorities.
In the autumn 2007 Mr Gambira was among the leaders of the Saffron Revolution, when up to 100,000 monks and ordinary citizens marched through Burma’s streets to call for fairer prices and democratic reforms. He was jailed for 63 years but released earlier this year as part of a government amnesty in which many political prisoners were set free.
The family of the outspoken government critic say he was arrested over the weekend and they were told he had been sent to the notorious Insein jail in Rangoon. “We are so worried for him,” said a sister, Ma Lwin.
The 33-year-old monk has said that during his four years of incarceration, he regularly suffered both mental and physical torture, including beatings and being kept in solitary confinement.
Ashin Gambira’s story shows that despite promising developments, true democracy has not yet come to Burma. The U.S. should be as outspoken about this backslide as it has been about the recent political progress.