Conversations with Zarganar: An Afternoon with a Burmese Dissident

By | March 5, 2012 at 10:52 am | One comment | Events, News | Tags: , ,

“As a dentist I could only open one mouth at a time,” quipped Zarganar. “But when I tell jokes I open many mouths.”

Burmese comedian, poet and satirist on what it means to be 'freed' from prison

On March 3, 2012 PEN Canada along with Amnesty International Canada and Ryerson University presented Conversations with Zarganar at Ryerson’s Library Lecture Theatre in Toronto.

On stage with Zarganar, the stage name for Burmese poet and comedian, Maung Thura, were novelist Karen Connelly, author of The Lizard Cage and Burmese Lessons, a True Love Story; Arne Kislenko, Professor of History at Ryerson University; and Zaib Shaikh, star of the hit CBC sitcom Little Mosque on the Prairie. They talked about Burmese culture, Zarganar’s hopes for Burma's democratization, and its prospects for a peaceful transition out of decades of military rule.

“As a dentist I could only open one mouth at a time,” quipped Zarganar. “But when I tell jokes I open many mouths.”

Zarganar spoke freely about his political activism and the difficulties of being a popular satirist in a repressive state. He did so even though his own freedom remains precarious. His original prison sentence – prompted by his outspoken criticism of the government’s response to cyclone Nargis in 2008 – can be re-imposed if he gets into further trouble. And, as he recently told an interviewer: “Under current [Burmese] law, you can still receive decades of jail time for reading or writing an email deemed to be subversive by the government.”

Last October Zarganar was released from a 35-year prison sentence in an amnesty that freed hundreds of Burma’s political prisoners. His response was typical: he called for the unconditional release of the hundreds of other political prisoners that remain in Burma’s jails, including General Khin Nyunt, a former prime minister and head of military intelligence – a man responsible for some of the most severe repression of Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy.

Watch Amnesty International Canada’s video of the event.

See photos of Botsford Fraser with Zarganar taken at the event.

All photos courtesy of Jim Ryce.

Goodspeed Analysis: Satirist sees ‘new dawn’ in Burma
National Post, March 4, 2012
For decades Burma has seethed with the suppressed rage of a country riddled with poverty and oppression, tragedy and terror. But Maung Thura, a comedian and political dissident better known as “Zarganar” … read more.

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