Burma: Zarganar released but thousands remain imprisoned
12 Oct 2011
ARTICLE 19 welcomes the release of popular Burmese comedian Zarganar, winner of the organisation’s joint 2008 Freedom to Create Prize for Imprisoned Artists, who was released today (12.10.11) alongside 220 other political prisoners. The international community, however, should not forget that there are approximately 2,000 political prisoners in Burma.
Maung Thura, known widely by his stage name, Zarganar, was sentenced in November 2008 to a total of 59 years imprisonment, 45 years for “creating disaffection towards state and government” by collecting donations for the victims of Cyclone Nargis, and a further 14 years for other offences under various parts of the criminal code.
“Zarganar’s release is really great news. He spent three years in prison and was convicted by a military government for daring to make jokes about them,” said Dr Agnes Callamard, ARTICLE 19 executive director.
“The international community should not however interpret the government’s release of 220 political prisoners as anything more than a smokescreen to hide the fact that there are still 2,000 languishing in jail. It appears that the Burmese government is responding to internal and external pressure, and we have a duty to continue such pressure until all political prisoners are released and the government implements real change towards freedom,” Continued Dr Callamard
The Burmese government has a history of announcing the upcoming release of thousands of prisoners, knowing that it generates good international public relations, particularly useful for supportive governments such as China and ASEAN (Association of South East Asian Nations) countries. As in most instances, such mass prisoner releases usually include few or no political prisoners.
Upon his release, Zarganar reportedly said: "I'm not happy today because there are so many of my friends still in prison … If I do something wrong they will send me back."
Zarganar won the 2008 Freedom to Create Prize for Imprisoned Artists, a partnership between ARTICLE 19 and the Singapore-based organisation, ArtVenture.
Art, in any form, constitutes a key medium through which information and ideas are imparted and received. ARTICLE 19 launched its Artist Alert in 2008, which highlights cases of artists around the world whose right to freedom of artistic expression has been curtailed and abused, and seeks to more effectively promote and defend the freedom to create.
Below is an interview with Zarganar by Reporters Without Borders.