Home Page > News Item > MYANMAR: Zargana Sentenced to Total of 59 Years

Update #3 to RAN 31/08 28 November 2008

The Writers in Prison Committee of PEN International is appalled by the additional fourteen-year prison term handed down to leading comedian and poet Zargana on 27 November 2008, added to the 45 year sentence served against him a week earlier as part of a major judicial crackdown on dissent. This brings his total sentence to fifty-nine years. He is among a number of leading dissidents to have been convicted in recent days in special courts held inside Insein prison for their peaceful opposition activities, many to staggeringly harsh sentences similar to those against Zargana. International PEN condemns these sentences, and demands the immediate and unconditional release of all those currently detained in Myanmar in violation of Article 19 of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, protecting the right to freedom of expression.

According to the news magazine The Irawaddy, Zarganar, who was sentenced to 45 years imprisonment on 21 November 2008 for violating the Electronics Act, received an additional 14 year prison term on 27 November 2008 for offences under four sections of the criminal code—17/2, 32 (b), 295 (a) and 505 (b), for his peaceful opposition activities. Journalist Zaw Thet Hwe, a close associate of Zargana, had his sentence increased by an additional four years at the same hearing, bringing his total sentence to nineteen years in prison.

A major crackdown in Burma has been underway since early September 2007, following demonstrations led by monks and pro-democracy activists which began on 19 August 2007. Many of those who took part in these protests, including Zargana, poet Saw Wei and musician Win Maw, and journalist Zaw Thet Hwe (see previous alerts) have been sentenced in the past two weeks in what the BBC describes as ‘a judicial crackdown across the spectrum of Burma’s pro-democracy movement’. For more details go to http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/asia-pacific/7741653.stm .

According to The Irawaddy, sources in Rangoon estimate there are around forty detained activists, monks and cyclone volunteer relief workers still awaiting trial. More than one hundred of the jailed dissidents have been transferred by Burmese authorities from Insein prison to remote prisons around Burma, creating difficulties for detainees’ relatives to make prison visits.

Background
Maung Thura, best known by his stage name, “Zargana” (also transcribed as ‘Zarganar’), a leading comedian, poet and opposition activist, was arrested on the evening of 4 June 2008 after leading a private relief effort to deliver aid to victims of Cyclone Nargis which struck on 2 May 2008. He is believed to be sentenced for his outspoken criticism of the government’s slow response to the cyclone, and his opposition activities. Zargana is Burma’s leading comedian, popular for his political satires. Zargana spent several years in prison in the early 1990s for his opposition activities. During that time he was taken up as a main case by the Writers in Prison Committee of International PEN. Zargana, whose pseudonym means ‘tweezers’ and refers to his years spent training as a dentist, was first arrested in October 1988 after making fun of the government, but freed six months later. However, on 19 May 1990, he impersonated General Saw Maung, former head of the military government, to a crowd of thousands at the Yankin Teacher’s Training College Stadium in Rangoon. He was arrested shortly afterwards, and sentenced to five years in prison. He was held in solitary confinement in a tiny cell in Rangoon’s Insein Prison, where he began writing poetry. One of his prison poems was published in the PEN International anthology This Prison Where I Live.

After his release from prison in March 1994, Zargana was banned from performing in public, but continued to make tapes and videos which were strictly censored by the authorities. In May 1996, after speaking out against censorship to a foreign journalist, he was banned from performing his work altogether, and stripped of his freedom to write and publish. He was briefly detained from 25 September-18 October 2007 for his support to the monks demonstrating in the capital, Rangoon.

Send your appeals:
– Expressing shock at the harsh sentence handed down to writer, comedian and pro-democracy activist Zargana, and seeking assurances of his well-being;
– Demanding the immediate and unconditional release of all those currently detained in Myanmar in violation of Article 19 of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Appeals to:
Senior General Than Shwe
Chairman, State Peace and Development Council
c/o Ministry of Defence, Naypyitaw, Union of Myanmar
Salutation: Dear General

Appeals to Myanmar (Burma) Embassies:
WiPC strongly recommends that you copy your appeal to the Burmese embassy in your country asking them to forward it to the Burmese authorities and welcoming any comments.

Letters to the press:
PEN members may consider writing letters to their national newspapers expressing alarm at events in Burma, and highlighting Zargana’s case to illustrate the many years of repression in the country.

For further information please contact Cathy McCann at PEN International Writers in Prison Committee, Brownlow House, 50/51 High Holborn, London WC1V 6ER, Tel.+ 44 (0) 20 7405 0338, Fax: +44 (0) 20 7405 0339, email: cathy.mccann@internationalpen.org.uk

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