ReadTheSpirit cheers with millions in Burma/Myanmar—and countless advocates of free speech around the world—that Burma’s most famous comic was released from prison! Zargana (or Zarganar, spellings vary) is profiled in our new book by Daniel Buttry: Blessed Are the Peacemakers. The author is an international peace negotiator for American Baptist Churches, who has worked in Burma and other hot spots around the world. The new book contains more than 80 profiles of peacemakers. Already, the book is being distributed in countries around the world and, over time, will help equip peace movements with inspiring profiles—and summaries of practical strategy for nonviolent peacemaking campaigns.
How newsworthy is the material in this new book? We just celebrated the Nobel Peace Prize given to another person in the new book: Leymah Gbowee, who is well known in countless U.S. congregations for her courageous work in Liberia.
FIRST, A JOKE BY ZARGANAR …
In a widely distributed video clip, Zargana tells this politically pointed joke: “One day, an American, an Englishman and a Burmese get together to see who can brag the most. The American goes first. He says, “An American with one leg (and Zargana chops his hand across one knee) has climbed Mt. Everest—twice!” That’s the American. Then, the Englishman says, “That’s nothing. An Englishman with no arms (Zargana chops at his biceps) has just swum the Atlantic—twice! Beat that!” Finally, the Burmese man smiles. He says, “I feel sorry for you English and Americans. That’s nothing compared to what we’ve got. Our leader has ruled the country for 18 years—without a head!” (And, as Zargana grins, his hand swipes across his neck.)
FROM FREE ZARGANAR CAMPAIGN
The Free Zarganar Campaign is sponsored by Equity in the UK, the organization for professional performers. The campaign has been waging a postcard campaign to Burma’s leaders, urging them to free the comic. The website has been reporting the situation this way:
Burma’s most famous comedian, Zarganar, is currently serving a 35-year prison sentence, after criticising the Burmese government’s handling of Cyclone Nargis in 2008. The cyclone devastated the country—more than 140,000 people died and millions were made homeless. Zarganar organised relief for many villages which had received no official help. He was convicted of “public order offences.” You can help Zarganar by letting the Burmese ruling Generals know people are concerned about him.
INDEX ON CENSORSHIP NEWS
Index on Censorship now reports in part:
Index on Censorship welcomes the release of Burmese comic Zarganar along with thousands of other prisoners. Htein Lin, close friend of Zarganar and member of the Free Zarganar Campaign along with Index on Censorship and other supporters, said he was delighted at the news of the popular comedian’s release. “It’s great news, we really appreciate it and it is a very positive sign. Hopefully the new government will release more political prisoners very soon. Zarganar came out with jokes making everybody laugh and very happy.”
SINGAPORE-BASED STRAITS TIMES
Straits Times, a well-respected newspaper covering southeast Asia, reports in part:
Myanmar’s most famous comedian made a career out of poking fun at the country’s military junta and his decades-long prison sentence was a testament to their lack of a sense of humour. Mr Zarganar, a poet, filmmaker and performer, has been a prominent voice of dissent in military-dominated Myanmar and his latest prison sentence, from which he was released on Wednesday, was by no means his first.
According to his supporters, the 50-year-old did not let jail dull his wit—deprived of pens and paper, he memorized jokes and regaled the wardens.
TIME MAGAZINE WORLD EDITION
Time reports, in part:
(Rangoon, Burma)—Burma freed comedian and government critic Zarganar as it began releasing 6,300 convicts in a liberalizing move Wednesday, but kept several key political detainees behind bars, dampening hopes for a broader amnesty. … “The freedom of each individual is invaluable, but I wish that all political prisoners would be released,” said Burma’s most prominent pro-democracy campaigner and Nobel peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi. A major release of political detainees has been eagerly awaited by Burma’s opposition, as well as foreign governments and the UN, as a gesture toward liberalization by the elected government after decades of harsh military rule. A failure to release a significant portion of Burma’s estimated 2,000 political prisoners could hamper the country’s efforts to burnish its human rights record and win a lifting of Western economic and political sanctions.
(Burmese journalists in exile)
Mizzima correspondent Kyaw Kha talked by telephone with Burmese comedian Zarganar and reported, in part, on the Mizzima website this Q and A:
Q: What do you think about the new government?
A: Earlier, it satisfied me a little. But according to today’s conditions regarding the amnesty, I am not satisfied. As you see, they are releasing political prisoners little by little; so we are like the victims in the hands of Somali pirates. What is their ransom demands? The situation is like that.
Q: What other political prisoners were in Myitkyina Prison?
A: With me were Myo Aung Thant, who was also released. He was imprisoned 14 years ago. Zin Min Tun was also released. He was arrested in the “Saffron Revolution” and imprisoned four years ago. And many political prisoners are still in [Myitkyina] prison. There are four monks: Thiha Thet Zin from Bogale; Zayyar Aung from Pegu; Myo Min Than from Bagan; and Kyi Soe from Taungtha.
Q: What would you like to say about the political prisoners still in the prison?
A: If all [political prisoners] are released that will be the best moment. Then it will be an opportunity to do activities and express our feelings. I’ll wait for that that time. We will work in order that all are released.
Originally published at readthespirit.com, an online journal covering religion and cultural diversity.