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Leading comedian and poet Zargana released

(WiPC/IFEX) - The Writers in Prison Committee of International PEN welcomes the release of poet and comedian Zargana, who is said to be well though exhausted after his three-week detention. Zargana is among many pro-democracy activists reported to have been arrested in the ongoing government crackdown in Burma, including fellow comedian U Par Par Lay, who is believed to remain detained. International PEN reiterates its concern for the safety of Burmese writers and that their works continue to be censored. PEN calls for the immediate and unconditional release of all those currently detained in Myanmar in violation of Article 19 of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

According to PEN's information, Maung Thura ("Zargana"), leading comedian, poet and opposition activist, was arrested on 25 September 2007 for his support to the monks demonstrating in the capital, Rangoon. His release was reported on 18 October, although he remains under heavy surveillance and restriction, as he has been for many years. For further information, see the following link: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/asia-pacific/7050018.stm . Also, for an informative article on his case and on censorship of Burmese writings in general, go to http://books.guardian.co.uk/poetry/features/0,,2189772,00.html

Maung Thura, more commonly known by his nick-name "Zargana", is Burma's leading comedian, popular for his political satires. Zargana spent several years in prison in the early 1990s for his opposition activities. During that time he was taken up as a main case by the Writers in Prison Committee of International PEN. Zargana, whose pseudonym means "tweezers" and refers to his years spent training as a dentist, was first arrested in October 1988 after making fun of the government, but freed six months later. However, on 19 May 1990, he impersonated General Saw Maung, former head of the military government, to 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. One of his prison poems was published in the International PEN anthology "This Prison Where I Live".

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.

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