Burma brings iron curtain down on stage shows

The Burmese authorities are poised to ban all stage and theatre performances – often scenes of dissidence and criticism – ahead of elections planned for early next month.

Reports in exiled media say the authorities are to use the excuse of security concerns to prohibit almost all performances during a period that is traditionally marked with festivals and events. Certain exceptions might be allowed for those able or willing to pay large sums for permits.

Par Par Lay, a well-known Burmese comedian and a member of the Moustache Brothers troupe which is based in the northern city of Mandalay, told the Irrawaddy website: "I heard that they will not allow anyone to perform on stage at festivals, but they have not said why and have not yet officially announced the ban."

The manager of another performing troupe in Mandalay said: "The authorities have told organisers to put up guarantees of about 1 million kyat (£630) if they want to have stage performances. They are making organisers responsible for security and will seize the deposit if there is any trouble."

Comedy and theatre has long had a tradition of quiet dissent in Burma, a country where the only media is strictly controlled by the government. One of the country's best-known comics, Zarganar, spent many years making barbed puns about the regime. Eventually, in 2008, the junta ran out of patience with him and seized on an interview he had given to the BBC criticising the authorities' response after Cyclone Nargis and jailed him for 35 years.

Members of the Moustache Brothers have been in and out of jail over the past two decades for their celebrated performances which sometimes poke fun at the junta.

October and November see many Buddhist festivals across the country and troupes of artists who sing, dance and perform sketches are usually a regular sight. With an election due to take place on 7 November, the country's first poll for two decades, the authorities are doing all they can to keep a lid on dissent or criticism.

More than 2,000 political prisoners remain behind bars, visas for tourists have been all but stopped and independent observers will not be invited to observe the poll, which many analysts believe will cement the position of the military.

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