Yangon (AsiaNews) -The Canadian branch of PEN, an international organization that works for freedom of speech and of the press, has awarded Burmese actor and activist Zarganar with the One Humanity Award 2008. The comic will receive the award in absentia, because he is still detained in the Insein prison in Myanmar, for "bringing aid to the victims of cyclone Nargis," and "denouncing the misdeeds of the reigning military junta." His arrest took place on June 3, and on August 1 he was charged with "disturbing public order," on the basis of which he risks "up to two years in prison." Zarganar was also given the "Empty Chair" recognition, assigned to those who are unable to come to the festival because they are under punitive regimes.
The organizers emphasize that the One Humanity Award is given to intellectuals or writers whose works reflect "honest, good judgment and a courageous belief in the peaceful expression of ideas through any medium." In a press release, the president of PEN Canada, Nelofer Pazira, reiterates the association's support for "fearless" writers who, because of their work, have been reduced to silence in various ways. "Writers are routinely killed, imprisoned, threatened and harassed for expressing their ideas,” Pazira says.
Zarganar is one of the leading figures in the struggle for democracy in his country, and has been arrested repeatedly; in the weeks following cyclone Nargis, he organized a team of more than 400 volunteers who, defying the prohibitions and restrictions of the military regime, brought aid to 42 villages, at the same time decrying the real situation in the areas struck by the tragedy. During the turbulent moments of the arrest, agents of the secret police confiscated a computer and CD's containing images of the disaster area (in the districts of Irrawaddy and Yangon), in addition to a thousand dollar for hurricane survivors.
The International Women’s Media Foundation, meanwhile, has given its Journalism and Courage Award 2008 to Burmese reporter Aye Aye Win, who for more than twenty years has been one of the most tenacious in denouncing abuses in Myanmar. She is currently a correspondent for the Associated Press. In her statement of acceptance, she said that she has always worked "to serve the people and country with a firm belief that a free and independent press is vital to a free society." "Journalism in Myanmar is a risky business," Aye Aye Win added.