Burmese Comedian Detained

Burmese authorities detain the country's best-known comedian as he returns from a major aid effort in cyclone-devastated areas.
2008-06-05
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This photo taken on May 27, 2008 shows members of the opposition National League for Democracy during a gathering and march in Rangoon. About 30 members of opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy (NLD) party tried to march from the party's headquarters towards her home, but security forces broke up the protest and arrested 15 people.
This photo taken on May 27, 2008 shows members of the opposition National League for Democracy during a gathering and march in Rangoon. About 30 members of opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy (NLD) party tried to march from the party's headquarters towards her home, but security forces broke up the protest and arrested 15 people.
Photo: AFP
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, relatives said.

“As a parent of a son who tried  to do good deeds but got into trouble, I just want to ask, where are the gods?” Zargana’s mother, Daw Kyi Oom said. “Where are the Saints that are supposed to guard the do-gooders?”

“I’m surprised and sad too….He said he would sell his mobile phone and I said I would sell some gold that I have. We started from there,” she told RFA's Burmese service.

“People who trusted him donated also—people from Bago sent some bags of rice, and likewise from here and there people started to send 10, 15, 20, 100 bags of rice. We were very pleased to know that there are people who are willing to help the needy.”
As a parent of a son who tried to do good deeds but got into trouble, I just want to ask, where are the gods?” Zargana’s mother, Daw Kyi Oom

“I am now over 80, and never in our lifetime have we experienced this kind of thing,” she said. “For doing this good deed, Maung Thura has been arrested—for this, people with common sense realize that they don’t like you donating, they dare to stop you. If distressed people know about this, I don’t think they can do anything except cry or commit suicide.”

“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, said separately. “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.”

Seized CDs

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.
I’ll always have to be ready when I’m needed…I would like to say that artists, including me, should not be reluctant to work for the people."
Zargana, October 2007

“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.

Prophetic interview

Zargana was detained last year after the “Saffron Revolution” that swept through Burma in September, led by monks and sparked by a massive rise in fuel prices. He was unexpectedly freed and returned home in his prison uniform, with a plastic spoon and bowl as prison mementos.

“I believe I will have to participate in the areas where I’m needed,” he said prophetically in an interview in October. “I’ll always have to be ready when I’m needed…I would like to say that artists, including me, should not be reluctant to work for the people.”

The lives of Burmese youths “have been destroyed,” Zargana said. “They are in prison, and some have died. In prison, there were monks with gunshot wounds on their backs. I saw old monks around the age of 72 who got kicked in the ribs, and so they were leaning on one side.”

“It is really sad that these things happened in a Buddhist country.”

Original reporting by RFA's Burmese service. Service director: Nancy Shwe. Executive producer: Susan Lavery. Translated by Than Than Win. Written and produced in English by Sarah Jackson-Han.

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Zargana was detained last year after the “Saffron Revolution” that swept through Burma in September, led by monks and sparked by a massive rise in fuel prices.
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