Today is a big day for Ashin Gambira, one of Burma’s best-known dissidents, who was released from Insein prison this morning.
Charges of vandalism and trespassing against him have been dropped following hearings at Rangoon’s Bahan and Thanlyin township courts.
The former monk, who now goes by his layman’s name Nyi Nyi Lwin, helped to spearhead massive, monk-led protests in 2007 — dubbed the Saffron Revolution — over deteriorating living conditions and the oppressive rule of then-dictator Than Shwe.
The military regime cracked down harshly in response, opening fire on protesters and rounding up monks in raids on monasteries around Rangoon and elsewhere in the country. After more than a month in hiding, Gambira was arrested in November 2007.
He was sentenced to 68 years imprisonment and became one of Burma’s most prominent political prisoners.
While behind bars, he faced solitary confinement, beatings and sleep deprivation and has battled with recurring physical and mental health issues since his first arrest.
He was released as part of a mass prisoner amnesty in 2012, but has been arrested several times since then on a variety of charges, including one for “squatting” at a monastery that had been shuttered in the wake of the crackdown on the Saffron Revolution. He was detained again earlier this year for allegedly making an illegal cross-border visit from neighbouring Thailand, where he had been receiving treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder.
Just yesterday more charges were handed down in connection with his alleged vandalism and trespassing at a monastery back in 2012, but today he has finally stepped out of prison after serving what will hopefully be his last sentence.