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Index on Censorship rallies campaigners in support of imprisoned comedian

(Index on Censorship/IFEX) - Supported by Index on Censorship, campaigners from across the UK and abroad are to converge on London's Trafalgar Square on 3 May in support of Zarganar, Burma's most famous comedian turned prisoner of conscience.

The Free Zarganar Campaign coalition will be holding a colourful afternoon in London's Trafalgar Square to call for his immediate release. The comedian, writer and performer is currently serving a 35-year prison sentence for his criticism of the Burmese junta's bungled response to the 2 May 2008 Cyclone Nargis disaster.

The cyclone devastated the country - more than 140,000 people died and millions were made homeless.

The event starts at 2:00 pm on 3 May and is open to all. Organisers ask supporters to wear something red to help show their support and bring along an umbrella - the more colourful the better - to take part in our umbrella stunt.

Speakers on 3 May, which is also World Press Freedom Day 2010, include Bo Bo Lansin, journalist, artist and a friend of Zarganar, and freelance journalist and former political prisoner Nita May, who will talk about freedom of the press for women in Burma, the rights of artists and performers in Burma and share the latest news on Zarganar's situation.

Other speakers are Carole Seymour-Jones, Deputy President of English PEN and Chair of the Writers in Prison Committee, Aung Thwin, former political prisoner and a close friend of Zarganar, and Dr. Win Naing, activist and a former colleague of Zarganar. There will also be performances by the The Burmese Theatre Workshop and Camila Fiori.

Zarganar, an outspoken critic of the military government, was arrested on 4 June 2008 for his public criticism of the government's response to the humanitarian crisis that emerged in the wake of Cyclone Nargis.

After it emerged that the Burmese government was obstructing international aid that was to be distributed to the devastated Irrawaddy Delta and surrounding areas, Zarganar began to lead efforts to raise and distribute aid from private donors.

Despite assurances from the authorities that private donors would be given free access to cyclone affected areas, Zarganar and at least 21 others were later arrested for their participation in the voluntary aid effort.

Zarganar regularly gave interviews to journalists abroad, exposing the devastation which had not been reported by the tightly-controlled Burmese media. They collected video footage and photographic evidence from the affected areas. Two days after his arrest, state-controlled media published warnings against the production of video footage of relief work for foreign news agencies.

Zarganar has insisted that humour in Burma will prevail. "Burmese people love to laugh. If I can't speak, jokes will still spread. People will make them up themselves."

The Free Zarganar Campaign was launched by a consortium of human rights and freedom of expression advocates including Index on Censorship. Its goal is to mobilise public opinion and win his immediate release.

For more information on the campaign click here

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