|The popular satirist Zarganar is among dozens of political prisoners who have been released on 12 October 2011 as part of a wider amnesty. There is still no news about the musician Win Maw, who is sentenced to 17 years’ imprisonment.
Around 70 political prisoners are known to have been released so far, reported the Thailand-based Assistance Association for Political Prisoners. Other sources mention a figure of 120 or even 200 political prisoners. The Burmese state-run tv announced on 11 October 2011 that the government would release a total of 6,359 prisoners in its general amnesty.
Speaking to the BBC shortly after his release, Zarganar described his freedom as conditional. “If I do something wrong they will send me back,” he said. He also stressed that other political prisoners, “my friends”, as he called them, remained in jail and should also be set free.
Zarganar is a popular film actor and satirical comedian. He used his fame to help organise food, medicine and other relief supplies for the victims of Burma’s devastating Cyclone Nargis, which killed 140,000 people and destroyed 800,000 homes in 2008.
He was arrested and sentenced to 35 years in jail after denouncing the regime’s inadequate relief efforts in interviews to the Burmese and international media.
Urge for relaxation of censorship
Nyan Win, a spokesman for Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy, told the BBC that a prisoner release was not all that was needed:
“The release of political prisoners is just one of the barometers of the government’s seriousness about a change to democracy,” he said. “There should be other developments like media freedom, and the relaxation of censorship among other things.”
No definitive number exists for how many people the Burmese authorities have detained on political charges in Burma but estimates range from 1,000 to 2,100. The government is expected to stagger the release of such detainees over the coming weeks.
Pro-democracy musician with a 17-year sentence
The award-winning musician and composer Win Maw was arrested in November 2007. In March 2009 he was sentenced to 10 years in jail. At the time when this additional decade was added he was already 18 months into a seven-year sentence on charges of breaching the Immigration Act. He is currently in Kyaukphyu prison in Burma’s western Arakan state.
The 49-year-old singer and songwriter received the ‘Imprisoned Artist Prize’ in 2008 and ‘Kenji Nagai Memorial Award for 2010’. Win Maw began working for Democratic Voice of Burma in 2003, one year after he was released from his first spell in prison for composing pro-democracy songs. He also composed music for Democratic Voice of Burma, and passed on photos and videos from opposition groups such as the NLD and 88 Generation Students.