Myanmar state media: dissident monk to be charged

YANGON, Myanmar (AP) — A dissident monk who helped lead Myanmar's 2007 anti-government uprising is facing fresh legal action, in part for breaking into monasteries sealed by the former military junta after the mass street protests five years ago, state media reported Sunday.

The case against Shin Gambira, the first since he was freed in an amnesty last month, raises concern about the new, nominally civilian government's commitment to reform. It also raises questions about how much authorities here will tolerate dissent.

Gambira is facing charges of "squatting" illegally in a monastery shut down by the government and breaking into two others, the state-run New Light of Myanmar said.

The 33-year-old monk was one of the leaders of the so-called Saffron Revolution, a 2007 uprising led by Buddhist monks against the then-ruling military junta that saw the streets of the main city, Yangon, swell with some 100,000 demonstrators.

The army brutally crushed the protests and shut down some monasteries in the aftermath. The uprising was named after the color of robes worn by the militant young monks who spearheaded it.

Gambira was jailed during those protests, but released on Jan. 13 after half a decade behind bars. His freedom came as part of a mass prisoner release that has been hailed as a sign of Myanmar's new government's willingness to make reforms.

Earlier this month, authorities briefly detained Gambira again and questioned him in regard to breaking into monasteries illegally after he allegedly ignored a summons to report for questioning. Gambira was released shortly afterward.

Among other complaints, Gambira alleged that the central, state-sponsored central Buddhist monk's body, the State Sangha Nayaka Committee, had not pushed for the freedom of 43 other monks arrested after the 2007 uprising, the New Light of Myanmar said.

That and other complaints were "a slap in the face" to the central monks' body, the state newspaper said. As a result, the monk body has asked authorities to take legal action against Gambira, who will be charged and tried by the state.

He has also publicly voiced skepticism about the new government's commitment to democratic reforms.

The U.S. and European Union have called the progress positive steps forward but say they will be closely watching an upcoming April by-election before deciding whether to lift sanctions that were imposed during military rule.

The country's nominally civilian government came to power last year after half a century of army rule.