By Naw Noreen
The family of imprisoned comedian Zarganar is allowed once more to pay him visits following a lengthy ban, fuelling rumours that he will be released in a looming prisoner amnesty.
His sister-in-law, Ma Nyein, told DVB that she had inquired with officials in Myitkyina prison, where the popular comedian is serving a 35 year jail term, following reports that the family could once again see him.
Zarganar, who had been publicly critical of the former junta, particularly its lax response to Cyclone Nargis in 2008, has not been allowed to receive visitors for nearly 18 months.
“So we heard the news and called up the prison for confirmation and the administer chief there said we are now allowed to visit him,” said Ma Nyein, adding that they would travel to the prison, in Burma’s northern Kachin state, by the end of October.
The Burmese government has mooted an amnesty for prisoners, but as yet has given no details on who will be released, or when. A much-publicised amnesty earlier this year drew anger from pro-democracy voices when it emerged that only a handful of the country’s nearly 2000 political prisoners were included.
Ma Nyein said that the family had heard no news on whether Zarganar would be released. “These [rumours] are common. Usually, those who are released from prison before their sentence is up are sent directly to their homes.
“If it’s true, then we would be informed by the local police’s Special Branch [intelligence.”
Zarganar, who has received numerous international freedom of expression awards, was initially given a 59-year sentence, but that was later reduced.
Among Burma’s prisoner population are nearly 2000 jailed activists, lawyers, doctors and journalists. The government however refuses to acknowledge that it holds political prisoners.
Their continued detention however, often following highly arbitrary charges, is seen as one of the biggest indicators of a lack of progress in the country since elections last year.
Zarganar was banned from performing in public in 2006, before being arrested and sentenced in November 2008 after he gave interviews to foreign media in which he berated the junta’s poor reaction to the devastating cyclone, which eventually claimed the lives of nearly 140,000 people.