PEN International welcomes the release of leading comedian and poet Zargana as part of a widespread general amnesty. PEN calls for all restrictions against Zargana to be lifted, and for the immediate and unconditional release of all those who remain detained in Myanmar in violation of Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights protecting the right to freedom of expression.

Background Information

According to PEN’s information, Zargana was moved from the remote Myitkina prison in Burma’s northern Kachin State to Rangoon and is among the first to be freed as part of a widespread general amnesty that started on October 12, 2011. Speaking to the BBC shortly after his release, Zargana described his release as conditional: "If I do something wrong they will send me back. I'm not happy today because there are so many of my friends still in prison," he said.
Zargana was arrested on the evening of June 4, 2008, after leading a private relief effort to deliver aid to victims of Cyclone Nargis, which struck on May 2, 2008. He was sentenced to 59 years in prison, commuted to 35 years, for his outspoken criticism of the government’s slow response to the cyclone, and his opposition activities. He is among a number of leading dissidents to have been convicted in November 2008 in special courts held inside Insein prison, many of whom were given staggeringly harsh sentences. Those imprisoned include journalist Zaw Thet Hwe, poet and blogger Nay Phone Latt, and musician Win Maw. It is not known whether they are to be included in the amnesty. On October 11, 2011, a government spokesman said that over 6,000 prisoners would be freed, although a list of those to be released has not been published and it is not clear how many will be political detainees.

Zargana is Burma’s leading comedian, popular for his political satires. He spent several years in prison in the early 1990s for his opposition activities, when PEN first took up his case. Zargana was first arrested in October 1988 after making fun of the government, but freed six months later. However, on May 19, 1990, he impersonated General Saw Maung, former head of the military government, in front of 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.
After his release from prison in March 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 was briefly detained from September 25-October 18, 2007, for his support to the monks demonstrating in the capital, Rangoon.
Zargana is an honorary member of English, German, Canadian, Swiss-Italian, Sydney, American, Scottish and Danish PEN. PEN thanks all those who have supported Zargana during his imprisonment and maintained international pressure on his case, which undoubtedly contributed to his release.

Write A Letter

  • Welcoming the release of leading comedian and poet Zargana, and calling for all restrictions against him to be lifted;
  • Demanding the immediate and unconditional release of all those currently detained in Myanmar in violation of Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights protecting the right to freedom of expression.

Send Your Letter To

Chairman, State Peace and Development Council
Senior General Than Shwe
c/o Ministry of Defence, Naypyitaw, Union of Myanmar
Salutation: Dear General

Please copy appeals to the diplomatic representative for Myanmar in your country if possible.