YANGON - A Myanmar court on Tuesday jailed a former monk and leader of the 2007 anti-junta uprising for six months with hard labor on immigration charges, a member of his defense team said, but he was likely to be released soon
because of time already served.
The sentence came amid widespread excitement that has followed the release and dropping of charges against more than 100 political prisoners since Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy took power earlier this month.
Nyi Nyi Lwin, better known as Gambira, was arrested in January for illegally entering Myanmar from neighboring Thailand. He has been held without bail since his arrest at a prison in Mandalay, Myanmar's second largest city.
Myo Min Zaw, Gambira's assistant defense lawyer, said the Mandalay court sentenced Gambira to six months in jail with hard labor, but that the sentence would be reduced because of time served.
"Since my client has already served several months in jail during the trial, he has only a month or two to serve. So we're not going to appeal against the verdict," Myo Min Zaw said. Gambira was freed from prison during a 2012 general amnesty, a year after the junta handed power to a semi-civilian
government, following 49 years of direct rule of the Southeast Asian nation.
Since his release, Gambira has divided his time between Myanmar and Thailand, but Myanmar authorities have re-arrested him several times, in what his family and rights groups have described as continued harassment for his criticism of the government.
The Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, a rights groups that supports and monitors political prisoners in Myanmar, called the charges "trumped-up" in a post on Twitter following the sentencing.
"U Gambira's case reeks of the ugly political prosecutions of discarded military juntas," Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement. In 2007, Gambira emerged as a leading figure in a mass protest over living conditions and the oppressive rule of then-dictator Than Shwe that was dubbed the Saffron Revolution.
The government cracked down harshly in response, opening fire on protesters and sweeping up those who took part. A report from the United Nations found that at least 31 people were killed by security forces and thousands arrested.
Gambira's prison term of 63 years for his role in the protest turned him into one of Myanmar's most prominent political prisoners. Members of his family were also arrested.
While in detention, Gambira was repeatedly beaten and tortured, he and rights groups such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have said.