Myanmar: Zarganar’s arrest highlights junta’s efforts to silence critics

Zarganar (credit: Jim Ryce)

Regarded as Myanmar’s most famous satirist and an outspoken critic of the military regime, on April 6,  Maung Thura (known publicly as Zarganar) was reportedly arrested at his home and taken to an undisclosed location by junta forces. PEN International condemns his arrest and the targeting of media figures by the military junta and we continue to call for the immediate and unconditional release of all those arrested following the military coup.

A widely celebrated comedian, poet, actor and director, Zarganar is well known for his use of satire as a vehicle to criticise Myanmar’s military rulers. Fearless in his activism, Zarangar was first arrested for this involvement in the failed 1988 pro-democracy movement. He was subsequently imprisoned for four years and banned from performing in public. In 2008 he was arrested again and sentenced to 59 years in prison for speaking with international media to raise awareness of the devastation caused by a cyclone that resulted in almost 140,000 deaths and left millions homeless. He was later released in 2011 as part of a mass amnesty of prisoners detained on political grounds.

Despite being detained on numerous occasions for his peaceful activism, Zarganar remained a fierce critic of the military regime. Even in the midst of a peace process that many hoped would signal Myanmar’s peaceful transition to democracy, Zarganar remained sceptical of the military’s motivations, noting in a 2014 interview that “Soldiers solve all their problems with the gun, not at a round table”.

Zarganar is just one of a rapidly growing number of writers and artists who have been targeted by the military junta. In recent weeks, junta forces have issued criminal charges against dozens of public figures who have expressed support for the Civil Disobedience Movement, which seeks to undermine the regime’s control of the country through non-violent resistance.

Writers who remain in detention include:

  • Than Myint Aung
  • Maung Thar Cho
  • Htin Lin Oo
  • Min Htin Ko Ko Gyi
  • Mya Aye
  • Pyone Cho
  • Maung Yu Py
  • Nayi Myeik
  • Saw Phoe Khwar
  • Lu Min
  • Moe Sett
  • Paing Thit New
  • Han Lin
  • Moe Oo Swe Nyein
  • Tayza Min Khaung
  • Than Tint
  • Lu Phan Khar

The military junta’s ongoing efforts to control the flow of information has included numerous raids on media outlets throughout the country and the mass arbitrary arrests of journalists, editors, and other media staff. At the same time, the military junta continues to utilise print, broadcast and social media to disseminate pro-military propaganda and disinformation about the anti-coup movement.

The role of a satirist is to expose how ridiculous those in power are, and provoke thinking by creatively expressing ideas that are otherwise suppressed. Zarganar is Myanmar’s national treasure – he has peacefully campaigned for democracy and respect for human rights in his country all his life. He has been arrested in the past and upon his release, he has cheerfully persisted in his activism. His courage is exemplary. It is my privilege to have met him and to have been inspired by his bravery.

Myanmar must release him and all other writers who remain in detention. Myanmar must also institute an immediate inquiry into the killing of civilians and prosecute those security officials who have used disproportionate force against the non-violent civil disobedience movement, said Salil Tripathichair of PEN International’s Writers in Prison Committee.

PEN International condemns the military junta’s brutal suppression of peaceful protestors and we continue our call for the immediate and unconditional release of all those detained by the military junta.

For further information please contact Ross Holder, Asia Programme Coordinator at PEN International, Unit A, Koops Mill, 162-164 Abbey Street, London, SE1 2AN, Tel.+ 44 (0) 20 7405 0338, email:

Photo credit: Jim Ryce.