One of Burma's most famous comedian went on trial yesterday for providing aid to victims of Cyclone Nargis.
The trial of Maung Thura took place in a closed court, deep inside the country's most notorious prison. His sister-in-law, Ma Hdway, said the comedian, film director and social activist, better known by his stage name, Zarganar, was charged with five crimes, including unlawful association and creating public unrest.
AdvertisementThe Telegraph quoted diplomats familiar with the case as saying that he could face a sentence of up to 20 years in Rangoon's Insein prison.
Zarganar was arrested two months ago after leading more than 400 actors, directors, writers and young activists delivering aid to some of the remotest villages of the Irrawaddy Delta, where more than 130,000 people are believed to have died in the powerful cyclone that tore across the area on May 2.
The generals seem to have been particularly incensed by videos of the destruction filmed by the group and widely circulated in Burma by e-mail and DVD.
These gave the lie to the Government's claim that the disaster was under control and added to anger at its refusal to allow foreign emergency workers into the delta.
Zarganar was also fearless in talking to foreign journalists, a rare and courageous act in Burma where the local media are emasculated by censorship. Although careful not to articulate explicit opposition to the Government, his extensive programme of aid was a silent reproach to the Government.
The trial hearing came just before a day of high tension in Burma - the anniversary of the 1988 uprising against the military dictatorship in which thousands of protesters were killed by the army.