Zarganar honoured by PEN Canada

Oct 22, 2008 (DVB), PEN Canada, the Canadian branch of the International PEN freedom of expression organisation, is to award the 2008 One Humanity Award to Burmese comedian and activist Zarganar.

The US$ 5000 award with be presented in absentia this evening at the opening night of the International Festival of Authors in Toronto.

Zaraganar will also be named as this year's Empty Chair at the festival, which honours a writer who is not free to come to a literary festival.

According to PEN Canada, the One Humanity Award is given someone whose writings "reflect honest, good judgment and a courageous belief in the peaceful expression of ideas through any medium".

Nelofer Pazira, president of PEN Canada, said in a statement that the organisation had worked for 25 years on behalf of fearless writers who had been silenced in many ways.

"Writers are routinely killed, imprisoned, threatened and harassed for expressing their ideas," Pazira said.

"One such writer is our Honorary Member Zarganar, whose steadfast courage and integrity over many years we are honouring by granting him the One Humanity Award."

Zarganar's mother Daw Kyi Oo said she welcomed the show of support for her son.

"Don’t think about him being detained and arrested. If [the authorities] think that someone is against them, whether they are civilians or monks, they will detain them," she said.

"As a mother, I am proud of the fact that they are honouring him for doing good things for the country and I thank them for it."

Zarganar is a popular comedian and high-profile activist in Burma and has been imprisoned on several occasions for his criticism of the military regime.

He was detained in October 1998 for six months, served four years in Insein prison from 1990 to 1994 and in September last year was held for a month for giving alms to monks involved in the public demonstrations.

After Cyclone Nargis hit the country in May this year, Zarganar played a key role in assistance efforts but was arrested in June after criticising the government's response to the natural disaster.

He is currently being held in Insein prison.

Reporting by Khin Hnin Htet

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