BANGKOK—Burmese authorities have detained the country’s best-known comedian, a frequent critic of the junta and recently a major player in private efforts to aid victims of Cyclone Nargis, his family has said.
Maung Thura, whose stage name is Zargana, was taken away late Wednesday after he returned from the devastated Irrawaddy delta region, where he was trying to bring relief aid to survivors of the devastating May 2-3 cyclone.
“They said it would take one or two days but they asked us to pack medications and clothing,” Ma Htwe, Zargana’s sister-in-law, told RFA’s Burmese service. “They said they would bring him back, but he’s still not home.”
“I didn’t believe them. They always do that, they always say one or two days, but I never trust them. They are always trying to twist and turn the law,” Ma Htwe said.
“We have always been bullied, whatever happens they say it’s Zargana, never anyone else. Everyone from the arts world has done this, but no one else has been called for interrogation. Only Zargana,” she said.
Authorities searched Zargana’s home before detaining him.
Ma Htwe said they found nothing incriminating but took away DVDs and CDs that contained songs in tribute to Nargis victims as well as contraband video—briefly available on the Internet—of the wedding of junta leader Than Shwe’s daughter.
“They were searching for anything related to politics yesterday,” she said. “They didn’t find anything, so they took away those CDs, 30 FECs [foreign exchange certificates] and 10 hundred-dollar bills that they registered on an official form.”
“They didn’t find anything. He just doing social work,” she said.
Zargana, 46, suffers from high blood pressure and was last detained after giving aid to Buddhist monks at the forefront of protests against the junta that spread through Burma last September.
Zargana is known throughout Burma as an irreverent comedian, but he also works as a producer, director, writer, and actor.
Earlier this week, former political prisoner and sports journalist Zaw Thet Htwe said he and a large group of entertainers including Zargana were training young people in the worst-hit Irrawaddy Delta to provide emotional support to cyclone victims.
Zargana was first arrested in 1988 for his political activities and again for helping his mother during her campaign as a member of the opposition National League for Democracy (NLD) for the May 1990 general elections.
The NLD, led by Nobel peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, won by a landslide, but the junta refused to cede power.