Update #6 to RAN 31/08 12 October 2011
The Writers in Prison Committee of PEN International welcomes the release of leading comedian and poet Zargana as part of a widespread general amnesty. PEN International calls for all restrictions against Zargana to be lifted, and for the immediate and unconditional release of all those who remain 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 International PEN’s information, Zargana was moved from the remote Myitkina prison in Burma’s northern Kachin State to Rangoon a few days ago amidst speculations that his release was imminent. He is among the first to be freed as part of a widespread general amnesty which started on 10 October 2011. Speaking to the BBC shortly after his release, Zarganar described his release as conditional: "If I do something wrong they will send me back. I'm not happy today because there are so many of my friends still in prison," he said. To read the full report click here
Zargana 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 was sentenced to fifty-nine years in prison, commuted to thirty-five years, for his outspoken criticism of the government’s slow response to the cyclone, and his opposition activities. He is among a number of leading dissidents to have been convicted in November 2008 in special courts in held inside Insein prison, many to staggeringly harsh sentences. They include journalist Zaw Thet Hwe, poet Saw Wei and musician Win Maw (see previous alerts). It is not known whether they are to be included in the amnesty. On 11 October 2011 a government spokesman said that over 6,000 prisoners would be freed, although a list of those to be released has not been published and it is not clear how many will be political detainees.
Zargana is Burma’s leading comedian, popular for his political satires. He spent several years in prison in the early 1990s for his opposition activities, when PEN first took up his case. 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.
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.
Zargana is an honorary member of English, German, Canadian, Swiss-Italian, Sydney, American, Scottish and Danish PEN. PEN’s WiPC thanks all those who have supported Zargana during his imprisonment and maintained international pressure on his case, which undoubtedly contributed to his release.
Send your appeals:
• Welcoming the release of leading comedian and poet Zargana, and calling for all restrictions against him to be lifted.
• 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, protecting the right to freedom of expression.
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.
For further information please contact Cathy McCann at International PEN 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: firstname.lastname@example.org