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Comedian Par Par Lay Released From Burma Prison


Member of banned comedy group released from prison

(Mizzima/IFEX) - After more than a month in Mandalay's Ohbo prison, Par Par Lay is a free person again. Burmese authorities released the prominent comedian on 30 October 2007.

The eldest among the three famous siblings of the Moustache Brothers vaudeville act, known widely for their criticism of the ruling junta, Par Par Lay was arrested on 25 September, a day before the junta's ruthless crackdown on thousands of peaceful protesters in Rangoon that killed at least 13 and detained some 3,000 citizens, including Buddhist monks who led the marches. Par Par Lay was blindfolded while being taken from his residence to Shwe San Yar No. (4) police station in Mandalay.

The 60-year-old comedian said that the authorities had suspected him of involvement in organizing the protests and of having links with the protesting monks. Although he told them he had simply been an onlooker during the marches in his hometown, he was nonetheless transferred from Shwe San Yar police station to Ohnbo prison, where he was kept until his release.

The junta has been arresting not only protesters but also citizens who had come out to watch the marching monks. Knowing that the revered figures in the Buddhist-predominant country are taking to the streets to speak out on behalf of the people against a severely repressive regime, these onlookers are compelled, in turn, to stand by the monks. It was their way of silently saying "thank you" to the monks, at great risk to themselves, too.

True to the norm, the junta retaliated by sending troops to raid residences in downtown Rangoon to hunt down both protesters and supportive onlookers, using photographs taken by informants and plainclothes police personnel. Those who had sheltered the protesters in the ensuing crackdown were also arrested in the weeks after.

The junta also targeted artists who were at the rallies after foremost comedian and poet Zarganar called on all artists to support the monks by giving them alms at the country's holiest temple, Shwedagon Pagoda. For attracting popular support to the marches, Zarganar himself was arrested on 26 September and later freed on 18 October (see IFEX alerts of 23, 18 and 12 October 2007).

"They mostly asked me about whether I had any connections with the monks," a tired but happy-sounding Par Par Lay told Mizzima over the phone. When finally released, he was told that the suspicions were proved wrong, he added.

"I was released at 4:00 p.m. (local time) yesterday but because they made me sign papers, took photographs and fingerprints and all, I didn't arrive at home until 9.00 p.m. (local time). I had to sign about 15 times. But none of it was a pledge," he added.

The Burmese junta banned the Moustache Brothers, who are famous for their comedic acts that do not shy away from poking fun at the government, from performing publicly about five years ago. However, the artists are allowed to entertain tourists at their residence.

A prior detention in 1996 saw Par Par Lay serving five and a half years of a seven-year prison sentence in a labor camp for entertaining at the residence of pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who has since been under house arrest for 11 years.

BACKGROUND:

Since former military supreme General Ne Win took power in a 1962 coup, the country has been ruled by successive junta regimes that have controlled expressions of public opinions in different ways, especially through media, including local newspapers and television. The junta regimes have also violated basic human rights and restricted the flow of information within, into and out of the country.

Despite such an oppressive environment, drastic fuel price hikes on 15 August drove known dissidents into demonstrating against the junta. Arrested soon after, thousands of monks took their place and led tens of thousands of ordinary people to speak with their feet in the streets of Rangoon and Mandalay. On 26 September, the junta began a crackdown that killed 10 persons, according to the official count, but diplomats and dissidents put the death toll at around 100 or much higher.

ENDS

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