Zarganar, a well-known Burmese dissident and popular comedian, was released from prison Wednesday morning under a government amnesty for over 6,000 prisoners. Over the past two decades, he was frequently jailed or detained for his political activities as well as for making satirical jokes about Burma’s military rulers. Prior to his release, he was serving a 24-year prison sentence in Myitkyina Prison in northern Burma for publicly criticizing the slow and ineffective government relief efforts in the wake of Cyclone Nargis in 2008.
The Irrawaddy spoke with Zarganar on Wednesday, shortly after he was reunited with his family in Rangoon.
|Zarganar, a well-known Burmese dissident and popular comedian|
: How were you treated in prison? Did you face any torture?
Answer: Prison conditions are not as bad as during the 1990s, when I was first jailed. I wasn’t tortured, and the prison officials didn’t even verbally insult us. But we never had any visit from the ICRC (International Committee for the Red Cross).
Q: Did the government make any deals with you before you were released?
A: Not at all. They came and told me about my release at 5 a.m. When I was told that I was being freed, I even jokingly asked if that meant my soul was free from my body.
Q: There were rumors during the past three months about your possible release. Did you hear about them?
A: No. I haven't heard anything about it. But when we heard about the announcement of amnesty on the radio, I never thought I would be among those released.
Q: What are you going to do now that you are free?
A: Since I believe that art and politics are interrelated, I will continue to do both of them. We have long demanded a multi-party democracy, but what we have now is a “mono-party” democracy. Since the current system is not genuine democracy, I will continue to do both politics and art.
Q: There has been talk of positive changes taking place in Burma, and the US and the European Union have made positive statements about the meeting between Aung San Suu Kyi and President Thein Sein. What is your take?
A: I wanted to believe in these positive changes that Daw Aung San Suu Kyi spoke about. But since this morning, I lost belief in them because I found that the government does not have a true desire to release all political prisoners. They are not really enthusiastic about the release of political prisoners. They even hesitated to release me. Why don't they release all political prisoners? Is there any cost to them in releasing the political prisoners? Since the cases of the political prisoners did not take place during the rule of U Thein Sein's government, all of the political prisoners must be released if the government wants to strive for a genuine democracy.
I want all political prisoners to be released. Not only Min Ko Naing [the detained 88 Generation Students group leader], but also all other political detainees. I lived with four Buddhist monks who were jailed but are not well known to many people. I want them to be released too. Also the famous Buddhist monk Ashin Gambira, and other detainees such as Gen Khin Nyunt [the purged military intelligence chief who is still under house arrest].