Burma junta jails comedian for 45 years

A secret court in military-ruled Burma sentenced popular comedian and activist Zarganar to 45 years in prison on Friday, the latest in a series of lengthy jail terms handed down to more than 100 dissidents, relatives said.

Zarganar, whose real name is Ko Thura, was detained in June after coordinating private aid in Rangoon for the victims of Cyclone Nargis, which devastated huge swathes of the Irrawaddy Delta in May, killing 140 000 people.

Police seized his computer and several banned films, including the latest Rambo movie, featuring the US Vietnam War veteran taking on the former Burma’s ruling military on behalf of Christian ethnic rebels.

”He got 45 years for only three charges. More sentences will be passed on four remaining charges on Monday,” Zarganar’s sister-in-law, Ma Nyein, told Reuters.

Family sources said police also found a copy of the leaked video of the lavish ”champagne and diamonds” wedding of Senior General Than Shwe’s daughter, which caused outrage among ordinary people in one of Asia’s poorest countries.

The same court inside Rangoon’s notorious Insein Prison also sentenced two other dissidents, including a prominent journalist, to 15 years in prison and another man to 29 years, Ma Nyein said.

Rights groups say the slew of jail terms is intended to eliminate all political opposition before an election in 2010, the final stages of a ”road map to democracy” meant to bring an end to nearly half a century of military rule.

Western governments have dismissed the road map as a sham.

Other dissidents sentenced this week include a hip hop star who got six years for being part of a youth political group called ”Generation Wave”, an opposition spokesperson said on Friday.

In all, well more than 100 people from across the spectrum of the democracy underground, including 20 women and Buddhist monks, have been condemned to up to 65 years in Burma’s gulag.

The most prominent activists have been dispatched to the furthest corners of the South-East Asian nation, making it almost impossible for relatives to deliver food and medicine, raising the very real possibility of the prisoners dying behind bars.

The United States and European countries have condemned the junta’s closed-door trials and sentences, although there has been little comment from countries in the surrounding region. — Reuters

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