Burma:

Poeten og komikeren Zargana løslatt

Zargana var en høylytt kritiker av regimet og ble dømt til 59 års fengsel etter å bidratt med hjelp til ofre etter syklonen Nargis i 2008. Dommen ble senere redusert til 35 år.

– Jeg er ikke glad. Jeg vil være glad og takke regjeringen først når alle mine venner også er løslatt, sier Zargana til den Oslo-baserte radiostasjonen Democratic Voice of Burma (DVB).

NRK nyheter rapporterer at 70 politiske fanger nå er løslatt og at Aung San Suu Kyi ønsker løslatelsene velkommen. Min Ko Naing, Burmas mest kjente politiske fange og leder for studentbevegelsen under opprøret i 1988, skal ikke være på listen over løslatte, blir det meldt.

Nyhetsbyrået Mizzima meldte i går at 300 av de rundt 6300 politiske fangene som er annonsert løslatt, angivelig skal bli løslatt i dag (12.10.11).

Den norske Burmakomité ønsker løslatelsene velkommen, men understreker i en pressemelding at alle politiske fanger bør løslates.

«Vi ønsker å se alle politiske fanger løslatt før vi snakker om reelle forandringer i Burma. Dette har vært et klart krav fra Aung San Suu Kyi og demokratibevegelsen. Det har vært flere positive signaler fra president Thein Sein de siste månedene, men det er viktig at det internasjonale samfunn står klart på særlig to krav: løslatelse av alle politiske fanger og nasjonal våpenhvile», sier Inger Lise Husøy, daglig leder i Den norske Burmakomité.

Burma: Zargana freed from prison

Authorities arrested Zargana in 2008 after he helped organize deliveries of aid to Cyclone Nargis survivors and then gave interviews to foreign media in which he criticized the government’s response to the deadly disaster, the Associated Press reports. The regime sentenced Zargana, who has long been a critic of Burma’s rulers, to 59 years in prison. His sentence was then reduced to 35 years.

«I have talked to him. He is free now,» Zargana’s sister-in-law, Ma Nyein, told AFP Wednesday. She said the family now expects him to fly home from Myitkyina in northern Kachin State.

The release of Zargana in Burma, which is also known as Myanmar, comes a day after state television announced an amnesty for 6,300 prisoners on humanitarian grounds. The announcement came hours after a government-appointed human rights panel called for a pardon for Burma’s political “prisoners of conscience.»

It had not been known whether the authorities would include in the release the approximately 2,000 political prisoners being held in Burma.

A column in the Guardian Tuesday argued that if the political prisoners were released it would be the result of a careful political and economic calculation made by the regime.

«It seems unlikely that [President] Thein Sein and his cronies have suddenly seen the moral light, or that they have finally bowed under the weight of western disapproval. If substantial numbers of political prisoners are released on Wednesday, it will be the result of some very hard-headed, unsentimental calculations,» Simon Tisdall writes.

«One is that Burma’s resource-rich economy, hobbled for years by dictatorship, isolation and under-investment, is set to take off, if western sanctions and restrictions are lifted.»

DAY OF THE IMPRISONED WRITER 2007

INTERNATIONAL PEN’S WRITERS IN PRISON COMMITTEE
DAY OF THE IMPRISONED WRITER 15 NOVEMBER 2007

15 November 2007 marks the Day of the Imprisoned Writer (DoIW) and the Writers in Prison Committee hereby appeals to all PEN centres to take part as actively as possible to show solidarity and express a unified voice on behalf of persecuted writers.

Focus Cases 2007
This year the focus will be on:

·    Burma (Myanmar) – Zargana – a well-known comedian and poet who was among the many arrested in the recent crackdown against pro-democracy demonstrators that is still under way;
·    Cuba – Normando Hernández González – a journalist imprisoned under crackdown on dissidents in 2003 and since held in dire prison conditions;
·    Gambia – Fatou Jaw Manneh – a journalist on trial and facing a heavy sentence on charges of sedition for her articles criticising the Gambian president.
·    Iran – Yaghoub Yadali –  a novelist given a one year sentence for his fictional characterisation of the ethnic minority of which he is himself a member;
·    Uzbekistan – Jamshid Karimov – a journalist who has covered human rights abuses, and wrote critical articles and who has been held in psychiatric detention for over a year.

Myanmar (Burma)
Zargana
Comedian, poet and activist
Maung Thura (‘Zargana’) is a comedian, poet and opposition activist who has been arrested during the demonstrations in Burma that have broken 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.

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.
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. When he joined a travelling troupe of comedians in 1982, Zargana was optimistic about the role of the comic, saying, ‘If the government takes a wrong step in the morning, we can criticise it at night…’ For a while, the military authorities tolerated him, and even on occasion invited him to perform for them. But as the political climate deteriorated, the authorities lost patience and attempts were made to silence him.

Zargana, whose pseudonym means ‘tweezers’  referring  to his years spent training as a dentist, was born in January 1962, the youngest son of  of writers Nan Nyunt Swe and Daw Kyi Oo. From a young age he accompanied his parents on speaking tours, and entertained people by giving performances and doing impersonations.. He went on to form a dance troupe and a drama group, which both performed on national television, and between 1985 and 1988 he played lead roles in four films.

During the 1988 uprising, Zaragana gave speeches at the Rangoon General Hospital which 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. 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.

Zargana was first arrested in October 1988 after making fun of  the government, and 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.

In prison, Zargana 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.

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

What you can do:
While the situation in Burma remains critical, it is not advised to write to the Burmese authorities and letters of appeal should be sent to the Burmese embassy in your country protesting the arrest of Zargana as being in direct violation of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, and calling for his release. If there is no diplomatic representative in your country, please contact the International PEN WiPC office in London for advice.

Please send copies of any replies you may receive from the authorities to Cathy McCann at the International PEN head office in London: Writers in Prison Committee London Office: Brownlow House, 50/51 High Holborn, London WC1V 6ER UK cathy.mccann@internationalpen.org.uk

For more information and a photo please see:
http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/asia-pacific/5349552.stm

The following poem by Zargana is published in the International PEN anthology of writings from prison

Oblivion
At night the moonbeams snap.
The stars are suffocated.
That maligned, unhappy barn owl
screeches out its grief.
The old train on the tracks
hurtles to its destruction
wheezing out its last breath.

And I? I send my thoughts beyond these walls
day in, day out, from dawn to night
(from dawn to night, day in day out)
I dream the endless daydream,
dream the endless journey
through the night, fretting,
champing at the bit:

the one I call for does not come,
the one I wait for never appears
Ah, if I could only stop the
thinking, seeing, hearing, dreaming….

I wouldn’t feel a thing.

ZARGANA, Burma, 1988
The translator has asked to remain anonymous.

From This Prison Where I Live published by Cassell, 1996, ed. Siobhan Dowd ISBN 0-304-33306-9