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Four Buddhist nuns jailed in connection with the September 2007 protests have been released from prison but say they are banned from re-entering nunhood.
Burmese authorities have reportedly been pressuring their former monastery in Rangoon not to accept the four, who are aged between 37 and 64.
They had been arrested weeks after the so-called Saffron Revolution, along with seven monks and three other nuns, and sentenced to four years’ and three months’ imprisonment.
Two of the monks died shortly after being imprisoned, while three elderly nuns were released following a visit to Burma by the UN’s special rapporteur, Tomas Ojea Quintana. The main charge was religious defamation, and they were interned at Rangoon’s infamous Insein prison.
“We are still looking for a [lay sponsor] to ordain us and we are frustrated as no monastery will accept us,” said Nyunt Nyunt, who until she was disrobed had gone by the name Pyinyar Theingi. “It’s like we are being exiled; no monastery will accept us.
She said that the Sangha Nayaka, or the government’s head monk association, had prompted police to confiscate the release certificate of one of the freed monks, meaning he was banished from the monastery and forced to sleep rough.
“I saw him begging for money at a train station yesterday,” said Nyunt Nyunt. “Now he has to sleep at fairgrounds and train stations at night.”
Burma’s reverence for its monastic community is not always reflected in the ruling junta’s treatment of them, an issue that came to worldwide attention during the September 2007 uprising when numbers of demonstrating monks were gunned down by the army.
The Thailand-based Assistance Association for Political Prisoners–Burma (AAPP) says there are two nuns remaining imprisoned in Burma, while 256 monks are behind bars. One monk, U Nanda Vathu, is serving a 71-year sentence, while nearly two dozen of those detained are serving sentences of 20 years or more.
The death in December last year of an elderly monk serving his twelfth year of a 20-year sentence prompted Quintana to call for the release of all political prisoners in Burma.
This was echoed yesterday by the Japanese government, who greeted the convening of Burma’s new parliament with calls for the country’s 2,190 political prisoners to be freed as a prerequisite for “[ensuring] a more inclusive phase” in Burmese politics.