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Burma comic jailed for 45 years

Burmese comic Zarganar
Zarganar organised private deliveries of aid to Cyclone Nargis victims

A popular comedian active in Burma's democracy movement has been sentenced to 45 years in jail by a Burmese court.

Zarganar was found to have violated the Electronics Act, which regulates electronic communications.

He is the latest in a string of opposition activists to be given long jail terms by the military government.

He was detained earlier this year for criticising the government's slow response to Cyclone Nargis in interviews with foreign news groups.

More than 100 activists have been sentenced over the past two weeks in a judicial crackdown across the spectrum of Burma's pro-democracy movement.

Some people have been sentenced to terms as long as 65 years.

Many took part in protests against the ruling junta sparked by fuel and food price rises in August 2007.

'Staggering'

Zarganar led a group of entertainers who organised private aid deliveries to victims of Cyclone Nargis, which hit in May.

An outspoken satirist of the military government, Zarganar had already been arrested and jailed four times before he was taken from his home again by the authorities in June.

Buddhist monks march down a street in protest in Yangon on 25 September 2007
The leader of the alliance of monks that protested in 2007 got 68 years

At the time, he seemed to think the government would have no problem with his activities.

"No, we never encounter any problems, because we negotiated with them, and we just want to pass our donation parcels. We just want to encourage our people - this is our duty," he told the BBC in an interview just before his arrest.

The BBC's South East Asia correspondent Jonathan Head says the sentence passed down on the comedian seems staggeringly severe: 45 years in prison, and he still faces further charges.

However, our correspondent says, it fits the pattern of other sentences given to more than 100 other dissidents over the past two weeks.

These include 65 years to the key members of the so-called 88 Generation of activists, and a total of 68 years to Ashin Gambira, leader of the monks' alliance that led last year's anti-government uprising.

Our correspondent says such breathtakingly disproportionate punishments send two clear messages from the generals who rule Burma: that they will brook no opposition in the lead-up to their carefully managed transition to what they are calling a "discipline-flourishing democracy"; and that they are unconcerned what the rest of the world thinks.

This wave of trials has been condemned by the UN and rights groups, as well as the United States and European countries.

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