Detained monks to be given lay identity cards

Apr 9, 2008 (DVB), Monks detained in Insein prison are being issued with lay identity cards in preparation for the May referendum, high-profile monk U Gambira told his sister during a recent prison visit.

Ma Khin Thu Htay, U Gambira's sister, said prison authorities had asked the monk for his views on the upcoming referendum.

"U Gambira told me he was asked to discuss the referendum with government officials in Insein prison, but he apparently told them there was nothing to discuss as he does not recognize the draft constitution they have prepared," Khin Thu Htay said.

"He said they then asked him to at least say if he would vote ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ to the referendum and he told them he would choose to say ‘No’."

U Gambira denounced Insein prison officials for forcing monk detainees to go back to their lay status and preparing to issue them with lay identity cards for the upcoming referendum.

"The prison authorities are preparing to issue lay ID cards for monks in detention. U Gambira told them he didn’t need to get one as he already has a monk identification document," Khin Thu Htay said.

"U Gambira told prison officials he would report the matter to international organisations if the authorities continued to force monks to accept lay ID cards."

Under the junta's referendum law introduced in February, monks and other members of religious orders are not eligible to vote.

People serving prison terms for any offence will also be excluded from the poll.

A family member of another Insein prison inmate told DVB earlier this month that prison authorities had been offering detainees a sentence reduction if they agreed to vote in favour of the constitution after their release.

Khin Thu Htay said the metta chanting campaign among Insein prison inmates, instigated by U Gambira, is continuing.

U Gambira has recently faced further interrogation sessions, but Khin Thu Htay said his remand for one of the charges against him has not been extended.

U Gambira, leader of the All-Burmese Monks Alliance, was arrested on 4 November 2007 in Sintgaing township, Magwe division, for his role in instigating public protests in September.

Reporting by Aye Nai

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