2007: Burma/Myanmar: Maung Thura (‘Zargana’)

For the attention of
Joar Lønning Strand, Contact for  Burma/Myanmar, Norwegian Foreign Ministry, Oslo
Jannicke Graatrud, Contact for China, Norwegian Foreign Ministry, Oslo

As Norwegian PEN is advised not to send letters to the authorities in Myanmar for the time being, please forward to relevant authorities and institutions in Norway and abroad

Your Excellency, Dear Sir/Madam,                                15 November 2007

Norwegian PEN is seriously concerned that Maung Thura (‘Zargana’) a comedian, poet and opposition activist has been arrested during the demonstrations in Burma that broke out in late September 2007. Zargana was arrested on 25 September 2007 for his support of the monks demonstrating in the capital, Rangoon. He is thought to remain detained, and there are mounting concerns for his well-being and safety.

Maung Thura, more commonly known by his nick-name ‘Zargana’ , is Burma’s leading comedian, popular for his political satires.  Zargana revived the traditional Burmese role of the court jester who is the only person allowed to criticise the leader. As the political climate deteriorated, the authorities lost patience and attempts were made to silence him.

Zaragana became a leading voice of the student pro-democracy movement although he never officially joined a political party. His crowd-pulling ability was second only to that of Aung San Suu Kyi, and his jokes were passed on by word of mouth throughout Myanmar.

He was imprisoned in the 1980s, and was banned from reading and writing, so he scratched his poems on the floor of his cell using a piece of pottery before committing them to memory. These poems were only written down after his release.

After his release  in 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 continues to defy the authorities, spreading his jokes by word of mouth.

Norwegian PEN is calling for the release of Zargana and all others detained in Myanmar for their peaceful opposition activities.

Yours sincerely,

Elisabet W. Middelthon
Chair Writers in Prison Committee, Norwegian PEN