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Burma monk forcibly disrobed over street protests

by Andrew Buncombe, The Independent, August 22, 2008

Yangon, Myanmar -- The Burmese monk who helped organise the huge street demonstrations against the country's military rulers has been disrobed by the authorities in contravention of Buddhist traditions.

<< Buddhist monks in cinnamon robes take to the streets of Yangon, Burma, in September 2007

Ashin Gambira, who was arrested last year following the so-called Saffron Revolution, told his lawyer that after he was detained, the authorities stripped him of his status as a monk. His lawyer, Aung Thein, told the Irrawaddy Magazine that the disrobing was carried out without observance of Buddhist traditions and with no consultation with senior monks.

“Ashin Gambira said the authorities, under Buddhist rules, had no right to disrobe him or to charge him with criminal offenses,” said the lawyer.

The 29-year-old monk, leader of the All Burma Monks' Alliance, appeared this week at a court inside Rangoon's notorious Insein jail where he was charged with a series of offences including contacting banned organisations and having illegal contacts with foreigners. His family have said they believe that if he is convicted of any treasonable offences he will either be executed or jailed for life.

The previously unknown monk alliance was central to last September's demonstrations which saw up to 100,000 people march in support of democracy and against soaring inflation. Human rights groups believe that up to 200 people were killed by the subsequent crushing of the demonstrations by the regime.

Hundreds of monks and ordinary people, including almost all of the leaders of various pro-democracy groups, are believed to remain in jail.

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