Zarganar Protests Planned for Edinburgh Festival

Article in the Democratic Voice of Burma about the huge amount of campaigning we will be doing at Edinburgh Festival in particular highlighting Zarganar/

Read the article on the DVB website

Htein Lin, artist and close friend of Zarganar, spent more than 6 years in prison. he has the name of his friend written on the palm of his hand.

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Exiled Activists Stand with Burma’s Former Political Prisoners

Early this morning a group of us made our way to the Burmese embassy in London to carry out a stunt for Amnesty International UK, kicking off the week nicely in the lead up to Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s birthday on Saturday 19th. The idea was simple – a group of 6 people would congregate on the steps of the Burmese embassy (officially Burmese territory) and carry out an outlawed political act that if done in Burma would result in years in prison.

(practising the line up in between coffee breaks)

This is the first time my work is being used as a campaign tool for Amnesty International and to have two former political prisoners (Htein Lin & Aung Gyi) in the group makes it even more powerful. So Htein Lin and Aung Gyi along with Zoya Phan, Nay Oo Hlaing and Waihnin Pwint Thon joined the Director of Amnesty International UK, Kate Allen and made their silent protest on the steps of the Burmese embassy with the names of a current political prisoner written on their hands. A powerful statement of intent was made on what is officially Burmese territory (not for the first time I might add!) Apart from a brief flutter of the curtains there wasn’t a sound from inside the embassy – with military precision we were done before they knew what had happened (and that included have two Press Association photographers there as well). So the first Amnesty action using this work… and much, much more to come…

you can read full details here on the Amnesty UK website

(left to right: Zoya Phan; Htein Lin; Nay Oo Hlaing; Aung Gyi; Kate Allen; Waihnin Pwint Thon)

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Zarganar. The Man The Junta Could Not Silence.

Late on Sunday 6th June I received an email from Htein Lin. It contained a new poem from his close friend Zarganar and was accompanied by an illustration from Htein Lin himself. It is a remarkably moving poem and illustration as well. The fact that Zarganar is in Myitkyina jail serving a 35 year sentence has done nothing to stem his creative ability. The few of us who were sent the poem were asked if we could publish it where possible, so I put it up here on this blog and sent it to my friend Andy Buncombe, South East Asia correspondent at The Independent (he had previously done the 5 page story in The Independent on Saturday magazine featuring U Win Tin). Three days and many phone calls later it was published in the newspaper, a double spread centrefold. A truely fitting tribute to an icon of modern times.

Zarganar. Your words are loud even though your voice may be silenced.

Below is the article as printed in The Independent – click HERE to read it online.

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EXCLUSIVE: Zarganar – A New Poem from Inside Hell

Below is an EXCLUSIVE new poem from Zarganar who is currently detained in Myitkyina prison in Kachin state. The poem was received by his good friend Htein Lin (and former political prisoner) who drew the accompanying illustration and asked me to publish them for you all to enjoy… so here they are:

‘Untitled’
by Zarganar, Myitkyina Jail, 2010

It’s lucky my forehead is flat

Since my arm must often rest there.

Beneath it shines a light I must invite

From a moon I cannot see

In Myitkyina.

Zarganar @ Thura was first jailed in 1988 and spent 1 year in Insein prison for his role in the mass demonstrations. He was jailed once more in 1990 and this time was sentenced to 4 years in prison. But it was in 2008 that the SPDC dealt the most severe of sentences on him due to his humanitarian efforts in helping those whose lives where devastated in Cyclone Nargis whilst all the Generals could do was stand and watch. On 21st November 2008 Zarganar is sentenced by the Court to 45 years imprisonment for violations of the Electronics Act. On 29th November 2008 he receives an additional 14 years under four sections of the criminal code—17/2, 32 (b), 295 (a) and 505 (b), bringing the total sentence to 59 years. However, on 16th February 2009 following appeals, Yangon Divisional Court reduces the prison sentence by “up to 24 years”, bringing the sentence down to 35 years. He is currently detained in Myitkyina prison in Kachin State.

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One Year On: Revolution and Evolution

Sometimes you can only move forward by going back to the beginning – and one year on that’s exactly what I’m doing in preparation for taking this campaign to the next level. With exciting developments on the horizon, where better than to gather your creative thoughts and ideas than with one of Burma’s most famous exports – world renowned artist Htein Lin. You can read all about Htein Lin here on this blog when I first took his portrait almost exactly a year ago to the day.

One year on and 117 former political prisoners later we are back in his studio discussing ideas and plotting a collaboration of sorts. With oppression ramped up to maximum by the SPDC with ludicrous election laws, worsening situations in ethnic states and more political prisoners in jail now than ever before, it’s time to start the fight back. Stay tuned…

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Happy Birthday Zarganar

Comedian. Actor. Director. Political Prisoner

Today Zarganar @ Maung Thura celebrates his 49th birthday as one of Burma’s most prominent political prisoners. Born on 27th January 1961 in Rangoon, Zarganar (Zar Ga Nar / Zargana) is not only one of Burma’s most famous comedians, film director and actor, but he is also one of the most fierce critics of the ruling military regime. He is currently serving a 35 year sentence for his role in both publicly criticising the military regime’s response to Cylcone Nargis as well as for his involvement in leading a group of entertainers in distributing private aid deliveries to cyclone affected areas and its victims. He was arrested on teh evening of 4th June having been previously detained 4 times already. He was sentenced to 45 years in prison on 21 November 2008 for violating the Electronics Act, and received an additional 14-year prison term on 27 November for offences under four sections of the criminal code – 17/2, 32 (b), 295 (a) and 505 (b) – for his peaceful opposition activities, bringing the total sentence to 59 years in prison. This total of 59 years in prison later commuted to 35 years.

He is currently detained in Myitkina prison in Kachin State and is suffering from extreme ill-health.

This is Htein Lin, friend of Zargana and former political prisoner. He was detained for 6 years in Insein, Mandalay and Myaungmya prisons.

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PRESS: RFA, VOA and BBC airing skyful of interviews

“RFA, VOA and BBC airing skyful of lies”. That’s the usual propaganda broadcast daily on state controlled media both on MRTV and in the New Light of Myanmar. However, they might like to change it now to a “skyful of interviews” as in the last 48 hours I have done telephone interviews with all three. What can now be deemed an award winning project has now gained the attention of exiled media across the world. First up was an interview on VOA with Zaw Win Hlaing in Washington DC. Accompanying this interview they also spoke with former political prisoner, artist and also my good friend Htein Lin who’s portrait was included as part of the winning submission. Next up was another interview with Washington with RFA followed finally by a more local call with the BBC. It’s incredible to achieve such attention in the exiled media and the best news is that all of the interviews will be broadcast not just around the world, but also back into Burma. The exposure for the project is immense and it brings the issue of political prisoners back into the forefront of people’s minds (not like it ever goes away). Time will tell if I’m able to get a visa again…

Htein Lin – where politics and art mix

Since returning from the border and the initial planning of the project with the guys at AAPP the past few weeks have been spent scanning negatives and just more thoughts, ideas and planning. The time has now come to try to move forward a bit and perhaps photograph former political prisoners here in the UK before planning any trips further afield or even back to Mae Sot. Getting their views on the project is really important.  Also it’s a good chance to discuss the idea with others, who whilst involved in the democracy movement, their immediate daily life, work, role lie outside that of political prisoners and get their opinions and feedback both critical or otherwise. Htein Lin at work in his studioSo where better to start than with my friend the world reknowned painter and performance artist Htein Lin. I first met Htein Lin in July 2007 when he had an exhibition at Asia House of his paintings that he had made whilst in Insein prison – the 00235 series. His work is extraordinarily captivating, particularly when you consider how and where these paintings were created. We soon struck up a friendship and he came to my exhibition the following month at the Smithfield Gallery with his good friend and fellow artist Chaw Ei Thein with whom he worked with when living in Rangoon. His life story as a student activist; political prisoner; member of the ABSDF through to where he is today living in London as an artist is totally compelling.

World renowned artist, Ko Htein Lin became involved in the democracy movement in 1988 when he was a student at Rangoon University. At the time of the mass uprisings in 1988 he lead demonstrations in his home town of Mezaligon in the Irrawaddy Delta before being forced to flee to the India-Burma border where he joined the ABSDF. It was at this time that he first studied painting and he illustrated the ABSDF’s publications. In 1992 after being caught up in internal conflict within the ABSDF he fled to China where he was caught and handed back to the military regime. Rather than continue his law studies he decided to work as an artist and comic film actor. In 1998, he was arrested and sentenced to 7 years imprisonment, charged on the basis of an intercepted letter on which his name was listed as a potential activist. In 2004, more than six years and some 200 paintings later he was released from jail. He know lives here in London with his wife and child and has become one of Burma’s foremost artists, exhibiting his work to great acclaim worldwide.

Jump forward two years and here I am in Htein Lin’s small studio in Kennington, SE London sitting down drinking tea and discussing politics. We might as well be in Rangoon. If only. The shoot is great fun and working with a fellow creative mind was always going to be. Of course the only name that could possibly go on Htein Lin’s hand is that of the comedian, actor and his friend – Zarganar. We manage to position his wonderful portrait photograph subtly in the background so in a comical yet tragic kind of way, Zarganar is peering out behind Htein’s shoulder, looking on with a mix of admiration and despair. Emotions that we both share for him as he currently sits in Myitkyina prison having been sentenced to 45 years for his involvement in assisting victims of Cyclone Nargis and speaking out against the military government for their lack of help. So the first person has been photographed for the project outside of the original shots taken at the AAPP office in January. It’s now got a global appeal. Time now to really put some hard work in over the next few months to really try and get this show on the road – a few competition entries would be good and a victory would be just the kick start this project needs… and deserves.

Htein Lin

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