A seriously screwed set of priorities

The Burmese junta, criticised at home and abroad for its incompetent handling of the Cyclone Nargis disaster and for seizing emergency aid intended for its victims, has decided to take decisive action by arresting a comedian.

Zarganar, who put his considerable name behind an independent aid campaign after the disaster, was arrested on 4 June, according to reports by the authoritative Burmese news website the Irrawaddy.

‘The objective seems to be to silence one of the best-known critics of the regime,’ said Index on Censorship chief executive Henderson Mullin. ‘The junta has not only silenced him, they have put a stop to one of the few actions that have been able to turn words of sympathy into life-saving action on the ground.’

Before his arrest Zarganar had recruited more than 400 volunteers to take aid to 42 villages, some of which had until then received no help at all after the cyclone.

Absurd censorship

Burma’s Press Scrutiny Board ordered the temporary closure (via) of the weekly Myanmar Times after the newspaper published an article bout the government’s decision to raise satellite fees from 6,000 kyat (US$4.80) to 1 million kyat (US$800).

“That the government prohibits the media from reporting on its own pronouncements confirms the absurdity of Burma’s censorship regulations,” said Joel Simon, CPJ’s executive director.

All news publications in Burma publish as weekly editions because of a time-consuming pre-censorship process which systematically ensures that nearly no news critical of the government is published. According to the papers Editor-in-Chief, Ross Dunkley, an average of 20% of the articles his paper submits to the censorship board every week are rejected.

Musical satire banned in Burma

The Irrawaddy (via) reports that Burmese authorities have banned a video compact disc (VCD) depicting a traditional anyein performance on the grounds that some of the content is critical of the military government.

Anyein is a form of traditional entertainment that combines music, dance, opera and satirical comedy.

The VCD, titled say yaung sone, or “The Colorful,” by the Burmese director known simply as Godzilla, was officially banned on Tuesday. Its script had at first made it past Burma’s draconian Press Scrutiny Review Board, but the subsequent release of the VCD led authorities to ban it, according to an actor living in Rangoon who requested that his name not be used.

According to a source familiar with the film industry in Burma, performances on the disc included a reference to electricity shortages in the country, problems with public health assistance, Burma’s national football team and the news readers on Burma’s state-run MRTV network.

Anyein is a popular part of Burmese cultural life, but in the last decade troupes have been prohibited from performing in public.

Films by Burma’s best-known comedian Zarganar are among the most frequently banned in Burma. The most recent examples, from May of this year, include Thee Makhan Nai Taw Bu (Intolerance), Mee Chit (The Lighter) and Shar Shay Kya Thu Myar (The Chatterbox).

One Rangoon-based director said that performers in banned movies face growing difficulties finding future work, as producers are reluctant to hire them for fear that their works will be banned as well.

One Rangoon-based director said that performers in banned movies were facing increasing difficulties with finding future work, as producers are reluctant to hire them for fear that their works will be banned as well. “Our life consists of not being able to do or say what we want to do or say. To raise the quality of our films to the international level, it would be good if there was no censorship in Burma,” he said.

No comedy in Burma

Burma’s best-known comedian, Zargana, has been banned again from giving public performances or promoting his latest film.

The ban, issued by the Motion Picture and Video Censor Board, follows an interview Zargana did with the BBC during the recent water festival in which he criticized the military regime’s arch-conservative rules on culture.

The ban also blocks all public screening of the actor-director’s new film “We Can’t Stand Any More,” a satire on Rangoon’s social life.

Zargana - a dentist-turned-comedian - came to prominence in the 1980s for poking fun at the then socialist regime. This ban, which was issued on Sunday is not the first time he has found himself or his work banned.

The comedian has also been jailed twice for his social and political activism, first as a political dissident in 1988, then again in 1990 while helping his mother in her campaign for the May general elections that year.

Zargana—whose name means tweezers—won the Lillian Hellman and Dashiel Award in 1991 after being nominated by the Fund for Free Expression, a committee of Human Rights Watch.

(via The Melon Farmers)