On Saturday a friendly football match between former political prisoners and artists was held at Aung San Stadium in Rangoon. The game was organised to celebrate last week’s World Peace Day.
The match included former student leaders from the 1988 nationwide uprising against military rule and other prominent pro-democracy activists, including Mya Aye, Bo Kyi and Lin Htet Naing (also known as James), who spent years in prison for their political activities.
The day’s celebration included live performances by local reggae and punk bands, comedy performances and a live painting session. Both teams put up a good fight, but in the end the Artists United won 5-3.
The event was organised by Zarganar, one of Burma’s most famous comedians and a prominent former political prisoner, and attended by guests of honour such as Tin Oo, patron of the ruling National League of Democracy.
Reggae singer Saw Phoe Kwar performed at the opening ceremony, spreading the message of peace and freedom for artists. In the past, he had to submit all of his song lyrics to an army-controlled board of censors who banned anything deemed to be anti-regime or at odds with the country’s traditional values.
Many of the players on the former political prisoner team were released as part of a mass amnesty in 2012. Since assuming office at the end of March this year, the National League for Democracy (NLD) government has released another 457 individuals facing trial for their political activities.
However, the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP) reports there are still activists and students awaiting trial and is calling for improved conditions for prisoners. Overcrowding, systematic use of torture, lack of access to health care and continued use of solitary confinement and prison labour are just some of the pressing issues.