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BURMESE COMEDIAN WINS PEN CANADA'S HUMANITY AWARD

Zarganar, the leading Burmese poet, comedian and activist who is currently being detained for criticising the Burmese junta's handling of the cyclone that hit the country in May, has been honoured with PEN Canada's 2008 One Humanity Award.

Zarganar, whose real name is Maung Thura, was arrested in June for criticising the Burmese junta's handling of Cyclone Nargis and organising relief efforts for its victims - which could land him 15 years in jail.

Not that jail is anything new for him. Zarganar, as a leading voice of the pro-democracy movement, has been arrested at least four times since 1988, including for supporting the monks in the Rangoon protests last September.

In May 1990, he was arrested for impersonating General Saw Maung, former head of the military government. He served four years of a five-year sentence, during which time he was banned from reading and writing - so he scratched poems on the floor of his cell with a piece of pottery and committed them to memory.

He continues to be banned from performing and stripped of his freedom to write and publish.

The PEN Canada One Humanity Award honours someone "whose work has transcended the boundaries of national divides and inspired connections across cultures." PEN Canada says, "One such writer is our Honorary Member Zarganar, whose steadfast courage and integrity over many years we are honouring by granting him the One Humanity Award."

The CAD$5,000 award (US$4,000) is being given in absentia on 22 October at a PEN Canada benefit in Toronto.

For more information about Zarganar and samples of his work, see: http://www.pencanada.ca

(22 October 2008)

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