PEN Canada Launches 25th Anniversary by granting One Humanity Award to Burmese Poet and Comedian ZARGANA



    TORONTO, Oct. 20 /CNW/ - PEN Canada, celebrating its 25th anniversary
fighting for freedom of expression, presents the 2008 One Humanity Award to
Burmese poet, comedian and activist Maung Thura, known world-wide by his
professional name- Zargana.
    Zargana is Burma's leading comedian and a poet who has been an Honorary
Member of PEN Canada for more than 15 years, during which time he has been
arrested many times by the Myanmar regime, serving four years in solitary
confinement in Rangoon's notorious Insein prison. He was most recently
arrested in June, 2008 for his criticism of the Myanmar junta's handling of
the Nargis cyclone, made while he was mobilizing 400 entertainers to provide
relief for its victims.
    The award will be given in absentia Wednesday, October 22 at the PEN
CANADA BENEFIT Opening Night at the International Festival of Authors (IFOA).
Zargana is currently again in prison, awaiting sentencing. He is also honoured
as this year's Empty Chair at the IFOA, a longtime collaboration between PEN
Canada and the Festival acknowledging a writer who is not free to come to a
literary festival.
    "For twenty-five years, PEN Canada has been passionately engaged in work
on behalf of fearless writers silenced in many ways," said Nelofer Pazira,
President of PEN Canada. "Writers are routinely killed, imprisoned, threatened
and harassed for expressing their ideas. One such writer is our Honorary
Member Zargana, whose steadfast courage and integrity over many years we are
honouring by granting him the One Humanity Award."
    Zargana (nicknamed "tweezers" because he trained as a dentist) was first
arrested for mocking the government in October 1988 and freed six months
later. He was a leading voice of the student pro-democracy movement, his
crowd-drawing ability second only to that of Aung San Suu Kyi. In May 1990,
Zargana was arrested for impersonating General Saw Maung, former head of the
military government; he served four years of a five-year sentence, during
which time he was banned from reading and writing, so he scratched poems on
the floor of his cell with a piece of pottery, before committing them to
memory.
    Upon release in 1994, Zargana was banned from performing in public, his
tapes and videos strictly censored by Myanmar authorities. In May 1996 he was
banned from performing altogether and stripped of his freedom to write and
publish. He remained defiant, spreading his jokes by word of mouth, until his
arrest on September 25, 2007, for supporting the monks in the Rangoon
protests. He was released in October, and re-arrested in June, 2008 for his
criticism of the Myanmar junta's handling of the Nargis cyclone. He was
charged in August with seven offences, including "defiling a place of worship
with intent to insult the religion," and could be sentenced for up to fifteen
years.

    The PEN Canada One Humanity Award honours someone "whose work has
transcended the boundaries of national divides and inspired connections across
cultures. The writings of the individual reflect honesty, good judgement and a
courageous belief in the peaceful expression of ideas through any medium." The
$5000 award is made possible by the gracious generosity of PEN Canada
supporter, Florence Minz.
    2008-09 marks the 25th anniversary of PEN Canada as the English-speaking
Canadian centre of International PEN. The first Canadian centre was founded in
Montreal in 1926, five years after the founding of PEN in Europe in 1921, and
in 1983 became two centres, le Centre québécois based in Montreal and the
Canadian Centre, moved to Toronto in 83-84 and later renamed PEN Canada.
    International PEN has 145 centres in 104 countries. The freedom to
express ideas- without fear of attack, arrest or other persecution-has always
been at the heart of International PEN's work.
    For more information about Zargana and samples of his work:
www.pencanada.ca For tickets to the IFOA PEN CANADA BENEFIT, October 22, 2008:
www.readings.org




For further information:

For further information: Media contact for IFOA/PEN BENEFIT: Sarah
Elton, (416) 995-2002, sarah@openflows.net


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