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Popular Burmese comedian Zarganar was among the first to be released from prison yesterday, but despite the joy of his supporters, he has remained highly critical of the amnesty. He left his cell in Myitkyina yesterday morning and flew to Rangoon after spending just three years of a 35-year sentence behind bars.
How is your health after spending time in Myitkyina prison?
I’m fine. But because Burma is changing so much, I’ve been encountering the ‘fourth pillars’ [journalists] even before I boarded the plane so I’m now getting a headache and neck pain.
Your release yesterday was into a different Burma than the one you left in 2008. Is there now more freedom and transparency?
I don’t want to say it like that. I just can’t conclude that there’s more freedom and transparency based only on releases from prison – I don’t see any significant change so far.
Unlike your previous jail terms, this time around you could read books and magazines. Have you been aware of developments in the outside world?
Yes – I got to read newspapers and journals, about 12 or 13 copies every week, and I saw news and pictures of the developments so it’s okay.
So what do you make of developments in Burma prior to your release?
Aunty [Aung San Suu Kyi] said we are heading toward change. She didn’t say there is a change now but that she thinks changes are on the way, and I believed so until yesterday. But this morning, I’m not convinced – I began to have doubts about the so-called reform because I don’t understand why everyone in prison wasn’t released.
Only a meagre amount of people were freed. I wish everyone inside prison in Burma is released, even people like [former prime minister] General Khin Nyunt, because they were not arrested and imprisoned under President Thein Sein’s ruling. I don’t see a reason to keep them detained for this long when we are looking for reconciliation. Why just do so little when it makes it hard to believe changes are taking place?
In a parliamentary discussion about freeing political prisoners, a government minister questioned whether stability of the state would be guaranteed. Is that a legitimate concern?
Then I have something to say. I will deposit my life with President U Thein Sein – he can take me life if there’s riot in the country because these people are released. This is my challenge. I can bet on my life.
Now the government is saying Burmese nationals living in exile can return. Should they go back immediately?
I have a short, one-line answer for this: just wait and see.
How do you plan to take part in the political process?
I’m getting old, and I would like to contribute as much as I’m capable of physically and mentally doing. I will mainly emphasise education, to spawn a lot of youths who understand and are specialised in politics, economics and social fields.
What is your view on the recently-scrapped Myitsone dam project?
Now that it’s over, I don’t want to criticise. Individuals concerned have done what’s needed to be done and I’m not an expert on this. But a wish has been fulfilled so I’m happy for those who worked for it.
Some members of Thee Lay Thee [Four Fruits – Zarganar’s former troupé] have gone back to Burma and some remained in exile. Are you still in contact with them?
There are two fruits and a shovel [referring to Thee Lay Thee member Godzilla], and those two fruits got shovelled away because they got rotten. I haven’t talked with them yet and there are things I need to ask them openly. But what I dislike the most about what he said was regarding the political activists in exile [whom Godzilla criticised]. I need to ask them openly about this and I won’t hesitate to disown them if I’m not satisfied.
Anything else you want to say?
I’d like to say just wait and see how things will be handled.