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Burmese campaigner awarded Equity life membership

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Equity is to award an honorary life membership to Burmese comedian and political prisoner Zarganar,currently serving a 35-year prison sentence.

The union is running a long- standing campaign for Zarganar’s release, including a postcard writing initiative. The comedian was arrested in 2008 after collecting money and supplies for villages affected by a cyclone and making critical comments to foreign journalists about the government’s disaster relief.

Equity awards honorary life memberships to long-serving campaigners. In Zarganar’s case, it also hopes to draw attention to its campaign for his release. It will be awarded for “services to the entertainment industry”.

Martin Brown, assistant general secretary for communications and membership support at Equity, said Zarganar had been invited to Equity’s annual conference this weekend as a speaker. While he is unable to attend, Brown said the invitation was offered “as a signal of how important Equity believes he is”.

Brown added: “It seems utterly appropriate for Equity to say, ‘This is someone who, under our rules, has served the interests of performers’.

“It horrifies artists in the United Kingdom, who are free to work, who are free to explore their art, when someone like Zarganar, a brother performer, is jailed for 35 years.”

Comedian Andy Parsons, who regularly appears on Mock the Week and who has campaigned on behalf of Zarganar, commented: “You realise how lucky you are when a fellow performer has been locked up for 35 years for saying something that. If it had been said in the UK, would have been regarded as rather tame and uncontroversial.”

Equity’s campaign postcard states that the comedian “is believed to be detained in violation of Article 19 of the United National Universal Declaration of Human Rights” and calls for his immediate and unconditional release.

Representatives from Burma UK are expected to attend the Equity conference, which will be held over the weekend.

Meanwhile, fellow Burmese campaigner Aung San Suu Kyi is currently acting as the guest director of this year’s Brighton Festival in absentia. The festival, which runs until May 29, features a number of events about the human rights activist.