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Comedian, sports columnist, other dissidents charged with violation of various media laws

(Mizzima/IFEX) - Several Burmese journalists, student leaders and an actor were charged for various offences on 15 August 2008.

Popular comedian and actor Zarganar appeared before the Rangoon West District Court inside Insein Prison and was charged with seven counts of violations.

His co-accused, sports columnist Zaw Thet Htwe, Thant Zin Aung and Maung Tin Maung Aye, a.k.a. Kadone, who were also present in the court, were similarly charged.

"Zarganar, a.k.a. Maung Thura, was charged with seven counts of violations and Zaw Thet Htwe with two counts. Today the court started hearing the case involving violation of Section 505(b) of the Criminal Code. Cross-examination by the prosecution is not finished yet," defence lawyer Khin Maung Shein said.

Prosecutor Police Col. Ye Nyunt charged Zarganar with violation of Section 505(b) and Section 295 of the Criminal Code Damaging or Defiling a Place of Worship with Intent to Insult the Religion), Section 17(2) of the Unlawful Associations Act, Sections 32(b)/36 of the Video Act and Sections 33(a)/38 of the Electronics Act.

"The prosecution submitted as evidence photos of him that have appeared in Burmese exiles' media websites, such as Mizzima News and Irrawaddy. The prosecution claimed that these exhibits illustrated disaffection towards the state and government. They also submitted the transcript of a radio interview given by Zarganar to BBC and VOA," Aung Thein said.

Writer Kyi Oo, Zarganar's mother, described what she felt. "I feel the same way as other mothers whose sons also face the same fate. Now I am numb. What my son did was for the sake of the country. I don't mind how many cases they charged my son with."

Zaw Thet Htwe was charged with violation of Section 505(b) (Inducing Crime Against Public Tranquility) and Section 295 of the Criminal Code (Damaging or Defiling a Place of Worship with Intent to Insult the Religion), Sections 33(a)/38 of the Video Act and Section 17(2) of the Unlawful Associations Act. Tin Maung Aye was charged with violation of Section 32(a)/38 of the Electronics Act.

They are facing a maximum of five to 15 years' imprisonment under Sections 33(a)/38 of the Electronics Act and a maximum of two years' imprisonment under Section 505(b) of the Criminal Code, if found guilty, lawyer Aung Thein said.

Zarganar has been arrested five times since 1988. Authorities banned him in May 2006 from performing in show business, including directing films.

Zaw Thet Htwe and Zarganar were arrested in June 2008 while conducting relief operations in the cyclone-hit region.

Zaw Thet Htwe was first arrested for writing on corruption among sports authorities. A court sentenced him to death on 28 November 2003. The sentence was later commuted to three years' imprisonment and he was released from prison after serving it.

Officers from the Police Special Branch and members of the local Peace and Development Council (PDC) ransacked his home on 4 June. They confiscated a copy of the documentary video of the wedding reception of Thandar Shwe, daughter of Senior Gen. Than Shwe, a VCD copy of the film "Rambo", documentary VCDs on cyclone Nargis, a Nargis song album sung by children, two cashbooks, 30 Foreign Exchange Certificates (FEC), US$1,000 cash, a personal computer and peripherals.

Zaw Thet Htwe was arrested while involved in relief operations in the Irrawaddy delta region. Police also confiscated a mobile phone, a PC, a CD and other documents from his home.

Leaders of the 88 Generation Students group - Myo Yan Naung Thein, Zaw Min from Syriam and Baung Baung, a.k.a. Min Min - also appeared before the court. Kyaw Soe and Ma Khin Moe Wei from North Okkalapa were also charged with violation of Section 24 of the Foreign Currency Act.

Updates the Zarganar and Zaw Thet Htwe cases:
http://www.ifex.org/en/content/view/full/95924

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