OCCUPATION: COMEDIAN, POET, DIRECTOR, ACTIVIST
STATUS: IMPRISONED FOR 35 YEARS
Zarganar is Burma's leading comedian and an accomplished poet, writer, and director who throughout his career has used his artistic talents to draw attention to political repression in Burma.
Zarganar was first arrested in 1988 following the pro-democracy demonstrations, in which he played a leading role. As reading and writing were forbidden in his cell in Insein Prison, he mixed dust with water and wrote poetry on the floor, committing the poems to memory and sweeping away the evidence. He was freed after six months.
He was arrested again in 1990 while making jokes at a political rally, and was returned to Insein, where he spent five years in solitary confinement. Following his release, he was increasingly involved in social activism and worked closely with international NGO's. During the 'Saffron Revolution' of 2007, Zarganar was one of the key figures to lead public support. This led to a further three weeks in detention.
Zarganar's arrest in June 2008 resulted from his criticism of the Cyclone Nargis relief effort. He had personally organised support from the Burmese arts community and oversaw its delivery to the delta. He was angered by the neglect and corruption he encountered and spoke out about this in interviews. In November 2008, he was convicted of 'public order offences' and sentenced to 59 years in prison, later reduced to 35 years.
In late 2008, Zarganar was moved to Myitkyina Prison in northern Burma, 1,500 km from his family home, where he remains today.
Zarganar was awarded the inaugural PEN/Pinter Prize for an International Writer of Courage in 2009.
Translated by Vicky Bowman
It's lucky my forehead is flat
Since my arm must often rest there.
Beneath it shines a light I must invite
From a moon I cannot see
Myitkina Jail, 2010
TAKE ACTIONSend a message of supportIf you would like to send a letter or card to Zarganar, please send it to the English PEN office and we'll arrange for it to be passed on:
Zarganar c/o Cat Lucas
Free Word Centre
60 Farringdon Road
Write to the authoritiesPlease write to the Burmese Embassy in London:
- Condemning the harsh sentence handed down to Zarganar, and calling for his immediate and unconditional release from prison;
- Seeking assurances of his well-being, and that he is being granted full access to any medical attention he requires, and to his family;
- Calling for the immediate and unconditional release of all those currently detained in Myanmar in violation of their right to free expression.
His Excellency Mr U Kyaw Myo Htut
Embassy of the Union of Myanmar
19A Charles Street,
Fax: 020 7409 7043
Join the Worldwide Reading for Burma's Silenced Poets
English PEN and the Free Burma VJ campaign (www.freeburmavj.org/) are organising a Worldwide Reading to pay tribute to Burma's Silenced Poets, including Zarganar, and we'd love you all to get involved...
On 21 October 2011, we will be hosting public readings of poetry by our imprisoned colleagues including Zarganar, Nay Phone Latt, U Zeya, Zaw Thet Htwe and Min Ko Naing, in order to raise and maintain awareness of their plight and of all those currently detained in Burma.
We already have events lined up in England, France and Thailand, but to help our message that these writers should be released immediately get through loud and clear we are hoping that PEN centres, other campaigning groups and individuals all around the world will take part by organising a similar event in other countries.
Please join us in giving a voice to our silenced colleagues and in paying tribute to their incredible courage in the face of continued persecution. Together we can send a strong message to the authorities in Burma that these writers have not and will not be forgotten.
Source : English PEN