Oct 16, 2009 (DVB)–Imprisoned Burmese comedian and satirist Zarganar has been chosen by one of Britain’s top poets to receive the prestigious PEN/Pinter award.
The award, named after the late British playwright Harold Pinter, is given annually to one British literary figure and one international ‘imprisoned writer of courage’, according to the PEN organization, which advocates freedom of expression.
British poet Tony Harrison, known for his poems sent from the frontline of the Bosnian war, was chosen for the main prize. He in turn picked Zarganar for the second prize.
Carole Seymour-Jones, chair of English PEN’s writers in prison committee, received the award on Zarganar’s behalf and paid tribute to ‘the wise fool of Burma’. She also paid tribute to the award’s namesake, who was an ardent supporter of imprisoned writers.
The assistant director of English PEN, Sarah Hesketh, told DVB today that the award was also an effort to publicise Zarganar’s plight and that of all the “people on the ground [in Burma] who speak out” but are not acknowledged.
Zarganar was sentenced in November 2008 to 59 years, later reduced to 35 years, after giving interviews to foreign media in which he criticized the Burmese junta’s reaction to cyclone Nargis in May 2008. He is currently detained in Myintkyina prison in Burma’s eastern Kachin state, and was earlier this year reported to have been denied adequate healthcare despite suffering from hypertension and jaundice.
The satirist has long included political material in his performances and was previously jailed in 1988. His sharp political wit is credited with affording him such a formidable reputation.
Fellow comedian and former colleague, Godzilla, said he was “extremely pleased to hear the news that Zarganar is being honoured.”