Exiled or left in jails: the Burmese artists still denied freedom

Democratic moves bring US visit but no change for people


The producer, Myo Zaw, is in the middle of filming 3-4, a slushy romantic comedy featuring jokes about an obese teen in a bumblebee outfit. But manufacturing saccharine and slapstick is not where his heart lies. Myo Zaw wants to make a film about students in the 1980s, but Burma's government censors – wary of the historical connotations of protest and rebellion in that era – quickly quashed the idea.

Burma may well be shuffling towards greater freedoms. The once-jailed opposition leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, is now allowed to stand for office and several hundred political prisoners have been released, moves which bring the new, supposedly civilian government the reward of a visit this week from Hillary Clinton, the first by a serving US Secretary of State in 50 years. But for the men and women whose job it is to entertain the masses, it is still a daily battle against censorship.

"No change" is how Myo Zaw sums it up. Anything relating to history, the military, revolution or politics remains strictly off limits, he told The Independent.

Burma's government, still stacked with military figures, sees entertainment as a way to control, not inform, the country's 54 million people. Shepherding the minds of the people is an evolving project in Burma. It has stumbled from posters calling on the people to "crush" all those opposing the will of the army to more subtle attempts at manipulation.

A US diplomatic cable released by the whistle-blowing website Wiki- Leaks this year said that the government had in 2009 set up a national football league purely with the intention of distracting people from economic hardships which had spilled over into public dissent.

The rapper and activist Zayar Thaw, who has already served three years for his anti-regime lyrics, describes how the government keeps him silent while maintaining a charade of creative freedoms.

"In August we were going to do a charity show, but the government banned me," he says. "They didn't ban me on paper, or they didn't tell me in person, they told the organisers that they couldn't hire me, so it's a bit more complicated than before."

Zayar Thaw is now off the roster from hip-hop concerts, replaced by rappers who stick to more wholesome and generic hip-hop themes such as consumerism and accumulating vast wealth.

One of the few creative industries that has seen a tangible relaxation of censorship lately is print media. Whereas in the past all mention of Ms Suu Kyi and political prisoners was banned, they can now carry pictures of the opposition leader, although newspapers and journals must be submitted to the Press Scrutiny and Registration Department for approval, with stories frequently removed. Zayar Thaw says his interviews have been censored, while discussion of prison conditions remains off limits.

An editor of a local journal says that journalists are still "monitored" by secret police, while many reporters remain in jail.

Artists behind bars: dissident voices

Sithu Zey

In September, the 21-year-old reporter from the exiled Democratic Voice of Burma news network was given ten years on top of his eight-year sentence under a vague electronics act.

Win Maw

The songwriter is serving a 17-year sentence for "spreading false news". He was lead singer in the rock group Shwe Thansin, popular in the 1990s, and often performs in support of democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Lucerne’s Hotel Château Gütsch, one of the lots in our Homeless Veterans appeal charity auction
charity appeal
Arts and Entertainment
Tony Hughes (James Nesbitt) after his son Olly disappeared on a family holiday in France

Jo from Northern Ireland was less than impressed by Russell Brand's attempt to stage a publicity stunt

Scunthorpe goalkeeper Sam Slocombe (left) is congratulated by winning penalty taker Miguel Llera (right)
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment
The Apprentice candidates Roisin Hogan, Solomon Akhtar, Mark Wright, Bianca Miller, Daniel Lassman
tvReview: But which contestants got the boot?
Life and Style
A woman walks by a pandal art installation entitled 'Mars Mission' with the figure of an astronaut during the Durga Puja festival in Calcutta, India
techHow we’ll investigate the existence of, and maybe move in with, our alien neighbours
Arts and Entertainment
Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels ride again in Dumb and Dumber To
filmReview: Dumb And Dumber To was a really stupid idea
Arts and Entertainment
Sir Ian McKellen tempts the Cookie Monster
tvSir Ian McKellen joins the Cookie Monster for a lesson on temptation
Tourists bask in the sun beneath the skyscrapers of Dubai
travelBritish embassy uses social media campaign to issue travel advice for festive holiday-makers in UAE
Nabil Bentaleb (centre) celebrates putting Tottenham ahead
footballTottenham 4 Newcastle 0: Spurs fans dreaming of Wembley final after dominant win
Life and Style
Jimmy Mubenga died after being restrained on an aircraft by G4S escorts
voicesJonathan Cox: Tragedy of Jimmy Mubenga highlights lack of dignity shown to migrants
Life and Style
Sebastian Siemiatkowski is the 33-year-old co-founder and CEO of Klarna, which provides a simple way for people to buy things online
Not quite what they were expecting

When teaching the meaning of Christmas backfires

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst

£25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established media firm based in Surrey is ...

Ashdown Group: Java Developer - Hertfordshire - £47,000 + bonus + benefits

£40000 - £470000 per annum + bonus: Ashdown Group: Java Developer / J2EE Devel...

Ashdown Group: Head of Finance - Financial Director - London - £70,000

£70000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Head of Finance - Financial Controller - Fina...

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Executive - Nationwide - OTE £65,000

£30000 - £65000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This small technology business ...

Day In a Page

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

The Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
Did Japanese workers really get their symbols mixed up and display Santa on a crucifix?

Crucified Santa: Urban myth refuses to die

The story goes that Japanese store workers created a life-size effigy of a smiling "Father Kurisumasu" attached to a facsimile of Our Lord's final instrument of torture
Jennifer Saunders and Kate Moss join David Walliams on set for TV adaptation of The Boy in the Dress

The Boy in the Dress: On set with the stars

Walliams' story about a boy who goes to school in a dress will be shown this Christmas
La Famille Bélier is being touted as this year's Amelie - so why are many in the deaf community outraged by it?

Deaf community outraged by La Famille Bélier

The new film tells the story of a deaf-mute farming family and is being touted as this year's Amelie
10 best high-end laptops

10 best high-end laptops

From lightweight and zippy devices to gaming beasts, we test the latest in top-spec portable computers
Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

Michael Carberry: ‘After such a tough time, I’m not sure I will stay in the game’

The batsman has grown disillusioned after England’s Ashes debacle and allegations linking him to the Pietersen affair
Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

Susie Wolff: A driving force in battle for equality behind the wheel

The Williams driver has had plenty of doubters, but hopes she will be judged by her ability in the cockpit
Calls for a military mental health 'quality mark'

Homeless Veterans campaign

Expert calls for military mental health 'quality mark'
Racton Man: Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman

Meet Racton Man

Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman
Garden Bridge: St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters

Garden Bridge

St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters
Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament: An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel

Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament

An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel
Joint Enterprise: The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice

Joint Enterprise

The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice
Freud and Eros: Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum: Objects of Desire

Freud and Eros

Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum