***UPDATE: English PEN is stunned by the forty-five year sentence handed down to poet and comedian Zargana on 21 November 2008 for violating the Electronics Act. For more information, please click here.***
English PEN is gravely concerned for the well-being of the comedian, poet and opposition activist Maung Thura, more commonly known as ‘Zargana’. English PEN seeks assurances of Zargana’s well-being, and calls for his immediate and unconditional release.
According to PEN’s information, Zargana was arrested on 25 September 2007 as a result of his support for the monks demonstrating in Rangoon. He is among many pro-democracy activists reported to have been arrested in recent days as part of the ongoing crackdown. Zargana is believed to be detained in violation of Article 19 of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and there are mounting concerns for his well-being and safety.
Zargana is extremely popular in Myanmar (Burma) for his political satires, having been permitted to perform the traditional Burmese role of a ‘wise fool’ to criticize the leadership during the 1980s. Zargana, whose pseudonym means ‘tweezers’ and refers to his years spent training as a dentist, gave speeches at Rangoon General Hospital during the 1988 uprising that attracted large audiences and won rousing ovations. He quickly became a leading voice of the student pro-democracy movement although he never officially joined a political party.
Zargana was first arrested in October 1988 for these opposition activities, and was freed six months later. 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. He scratched his poems on the floor of his cell using a piece of pottery before committing them to memory. During this period of imprisonment, his case was taken up by the Writers in Prison Committee of International PEN and one of his prison poems was published in the PEN 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.
While the situation in Myanmar (Burma) is still critical, letters sent to the country may not be received or taken as a priority. It is therefore recommended that appeals be sent to the diplomatic representative in London:
• Protesting the detention of Zargana, and expressing grave concern for his well-being;
• Calling for his immediate and unconditional release and that of all those currently detained in Myanmar (Burma) in violation of Article 19 of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
His Excellency HE U Nay Win
Embassy of the Union of Myanmar
19A Charles Street
London W1J 5DX
PEN members may also consider writing letters to their national newspapers expressing alarm at events in Myanmar (Burma) and highlighting Zargana’s case to illustrate the long history of denial of freedom of expression and association in the country.
Zargana will be one of the Burmese writers featured at English PEN’s event on Burma on 25 October. For further booking information please click here.
Originally posted with the url: www.englishpen.org/writersinprison/bulletins/burmacomedianandpoetzarganaarrested/