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Over the past week, at least 75 people, including two journalists, who were arrested during the September protests in Burma have been released from Insein prison, reports Burmese-run news agency Mizzima News. The IFEX Burma Action Group has called upon the UN to help exiled reporters and publicly investigate the cases of missing, jailed and murdered journalists. Meanwhile, one activist who was recently released speaks out about his detention.

Comedian, poet and opposition activist Zarganar was released on 17 October after spending a harrowing three weeks in jail. He was arrested by an eight-strong "raid and search" team on 25 September for offering alms to protesting monks at Shwedagon Pagoda in Rangoon.

In an exclusive interview with Mizzima News, Zarganar talks about what life behind bars was like, and why, although the street protests have stopped, the fight against military rule is not yet over. Below is an edited version:

We heard that you were put in a military dog cell. What kind of place is this?

A military dog cell is a special cell for prisoners who commit crimes in prison. These criminals are shackled and sent there for further punishment. They are put in isolation and solitary confinement. There are about 30 Alsatians guarding this type of cell, so it is called a military dog cell.

The measurement of the cell is about 8'x10'. You cannot see outside. There is no proper ventilation and sometimes it's too cold. I was made to sleep on a wooden board. I could not have a bath for the first two days. The food is terrible, as are the living conditions. There is no proper toilet. I had only a dining plate for both urination and excreta. I could use this plate only once for the whole day as it was filled after a single use. I had to spend seven or eight days there. I got pneumonia.

Have you been watched since your release?

Yes. They keep watching me from some teashops and snack shops in front of my house. The ward-level PDC members (Peace and Development Council, local level administration of the military junta) told me that they would do so in advance. I don't care about them. Let them stay and watch. I go out as usual.

We heard that the authorities banned 19 writers and artists from writing and performing for offering alms to protesting monks at Shwedagon. How does the ban affect them?

I have been banned for nearly two years now. It affects our livelihood. How can we survive without work? We know nothing about other trades. We can't learn how to fire a gun at this age. As for the people, they have to suffer too; they cannot read the works of these writers and cannot see the films of these artists.

Most of the leading students and monks have been arrested. Do you think the movement has ceased?

We cannot say the movement has ceased. It is simmering under the ashes. It's just temporary; it cannot be stopped. The movement is simmering in the hearts and souls of the people.

If the recent protests are still simmering, can the movement revive again?

The movement will re-emerge in different forms. If the SPDC gives us what we want, there will be no more protests. But if they give us what we do not want, it will reignite the movement. No one can forget what they saw and what they encountered in the recent protests. The movement may not re-emerge in the same form as in the recent protests, sacrificing a lot of lives and damaging a lot of livelihoods. It is premature for me to say what will be the form of the struggle. But the chance of the protests and movement re-emerging is sure.

Read the full interview here:

(30 October 2007)

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