Burmese comic gets 45 years

Regime's critic silenced

Burmese comedian Zarganar has been sentenced to 45 years in jail following his most recent run-in with his country’s military regime.

He was convicted of breaking the country Electronics Act, which regulates all forms of electronic communication, his lawyer said.

Secret police took him from his home in June and seized his computer after he organized a group of around 400 volunteers to provide disaster relief in the areas devastated by Cyclone Nargis.

He defied the junta by talking to international press and soliciting donations, and mocked an article in a state-run newspaper which said cyclone survivors could exist on what they could scavenge in the land rather than on ‘chocolate bars’ from Western aid groups.

When Zarganar was arrested, police also seized several banned films, including the latest Rambo movie, in which Sylvester Stallone takes on Burma's rulers, footage of the devastation caused by the cyclone and film of the lavish wedding of leader Than Shwe's daughter, whose extravagance fuelled outrage among the nation’s poor.

The 47-year-old is a long-time opponent of the Burmese regime, and has been banned from performing for the past two years after giving an interview with the BBC about government regulations. He was also arrested last year for supporting the Buddhist monks who protested about the junta.

Burma’s military rulers have shown no tolerance for comedians joking about their regime. U Pa Pa Lay and U Lu Zaw – known as the Moustace Brothers - were sentenced to seven years hard labour in 1996 after making fun of the country’s ruling generals, but were released two years early after an intense campaign by Amnesty International.

Published: 21 Nov 2008

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