YANGON, Myanmar Police detained a prominent activist who was distributing aid to cyclone survivors in Myanmar, colleagues said Sunday, the latest critic of the military junta's handling of the disaster to be rounded up.
Zaw Thet Htway was taken into custody Saturday while staying at his parents home in the central Myanmar town of Minbu, 250 miles southwest of Yangon, the country's biggest city, said colleagues who requested anonymity for fear of government reprisals.
The arrest followed the June 4 detention of Myanmar's most popular comedian, Zarganar, who was working with Zaw Thet Htway to deliver donations of relief supplies to the cyclone-shattered Irrawaddy delta. Both are outspoken critics of the junta.
Zarganar's arrest came after he had given interviews to foreign news outlets and criticized the military regime's slow response to survivors of the May 2-3 Cyclone Nargis, which killed at least 78,000 people and left another 56,000 missing
In one of the interviews, Zarganar said he and more than 400 entertainers in Myanmar had volunteered to aid victims of the cyclone, making several trips to the delta to help some of the more than 2 million survivors.
The day after the comedian was detained, the junta began publishing daily warnings in state-controlled media against people who send "video footage of relief work to foreign news agencies." Many believe the government suspects Zarganar and his co-workers of providing videos from their relief missions to anti-junta groups.
International rights groups have called for Zarganar's release.
"To arrest one of Burma's most famous public figures for talking to the media at the time he was distributing aid shows the Burmese government is more concerned with controlling its citizens than assisting them," Brad Adams, the Asia director of Human Rights Watch, said Friday. Myanmar was formerly called Burma.
Zarganar has been already imprisoned several times. Most recently, he was held for three weeks for providing food and other necessities to Buddhist monks who spearheaded anti-government protests in Yangon last September.
Zaw Thet Htway, formerly an editor of a popular local sports newspaper, was arrested in 2003 for allegedly plotting to "overthrow the government through bombings and assassinations."
He was convicted of high treason and sentenced to death but was later given a reduced sentence and released in 2005 after serving 18 months.