Police arrested Maung Thura, a well-known blogger and comedian who used the professional name Zarganar, or “Tweezers,” at his home in Rangoon, according to news reports. The police also seized electronic equipment at the time of the arrest, according to Agence France-Presse.
Maung Thura had mobilized hundreds of entertainers to help survivors of Cyclone Nargis, which devastated Rangoon and much of the Irrawaddy Delta in May 2008. His footage of relief work in hard-hit areas was circulated on DVD and on the Internet. Photographs and DVD footage of the disaster’s aftermath were among the items police confiscated at the time of his arrest, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners in Burma and the U.S. Campaign for Burma.
In the week he was detained, Maung Thura gave several interviews to overseas-based news outlets, including the BBC, criticizing the military junta’s response to the disaster. The day after his arrest, state-controlled media published warnings against sending video footage of relief work to foreign news agencies.
During closed proceedings in August 2008 at Insein Prison in Rangoon, the comedian was indicted on at least seven charges, according to international news reports.
On November 21, 2008, the court sentenced Maung Thura to 45 years in prison on three separate counts of violating the Electronics Act. Six days later, the court added 14 years to his term after convicting him on charges of communicating with exiled dissidents and causing public alarm in interviews with foreign media, his defense lawyer, Khin Htay Kywe, told The Associated Press. The Rangoon Divisional Court later reduced the sentences to a total of 35 years.
The Electronics Act allows for harsh prison sentences for using electronic media, including the Internet, to send information outside the country without government approval.
Maung Thura had been detained on several occasions in the past, including a September 2007 episode in which he was accused of helping Buddhist monks during the Saffron Revolution protests, according to the exile-run press freedom group Burma Media Association. He had maintained a blog, Zarganar-windoor, detailing his work.
The Oslo-based Democratic Voice of Burma reported that Maung Thura was transferred in December 2008 to remote Myintkyinar Prison in Kachin state, where he was reported to be in poor health. His sister-in-law, Ma Nyein, told the exile news website Irrawaddy that the journalist suffered from hypertension and jaundice.