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Nigerian activist pleads for Burmes

Nigerian activist pleads for Burmese comedians 
10:44 a.m. May 11, 1998 Eastern 
By Paul Majendie 

LONDON, May 11 (Reuters) - Nigerian human rights activist Ken Wiwa on Monday
pleaded for the release of two Burmese satirical comedians as Amnesty
International launched a new campaign to free dissidents around the world. 

Wiwa, whose father, minority rights activist Ken Saro-Wiwa, was executed in
1995, launched his plea after returning from a visit to Burma which he
called a totalitarian state where human rights are systematically abused. 

He took up the case of comedians Pa Pa Lay and Lu Zaw who Amnesty said were
jailed for seven years for singing comic songs about Burma's ruling
generals, satirising the military regime and telling jokes about state

Amnesty, the human rights pressure group, and the Body Shop chain of stores
are inviting customers in 30 countries to ``make a thumbprint to support 12
human rights defenders across the globe.'' This will help to publicise their

``This campaign is an attempt to highlight lesser known activists,'' said
Wiwa, who is writing a book about his father and went to Burma to see Nobel
Peace laureate Aung Sang Suu Kyi. 

``I had to do it undercover. I was made aware that anybody who goes to see
her may be harassed,'' he told Reuters on return from his trip to Myanmar. 

``For my pains, I was detained by the military for two hours. They gave me
the third degree and turned my bags inside out.'' 

But he said that she still maintained high morale: ``The opposition has been
ruthlessly crushed but she is still committed to securing democracy in her
country. She is so sure of the right of her cause.'' 

Myanmar's pro-democracy leader was held under house arrest for six years
until her release in July 1995. She won the peace prize in 1991 for her
non-violent efforts to bring about democracy in her homeland. 

Wiwa offered a downbeat assessment of his own country where Nigerian ruler
General Sani Abacha secured the backing of all five legal parties to stand
as sole candidate for presidential elections on August 1 in the oil-rich
African state of 104 million people. 

Western countries say a one-horse race for Nigeria's top job does not
conform with their ideas of democracy. 

``The problems are deep-seated and go beyond what happens on August 1,'' he

``There are structural problems. It is a country not at ease with itself. I
hope advocates of peaceful change will be heard,'' he said. 

But he warned: ``It is difficult to be optimistic about a country where the
economy is failing rapidly and conditions deteriorating...It is very
difficult to see any real substantial change in the near future.'' 

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