YANGON Aug 1 Myanmar's military junta has charged popular comedian and leading dissident Zarganar with public order offences, which could see him jailed for up to two years, a lawyer said on Friday.
Zarganar was arrested on June 3 after publicly criticising the ruling generals for their sluggish response to Cyclone Nargis, which left 134,000 people dead or missing when it slammed into the Irrawaddy delta a month earlier.
Opposition lawyer Aung Thein said Zarganar was charged with "inducing public offence" at a secret hearing inside Yangon's notorious Insein prison on Wednesday. Three other anti-government activists also appeared at the hearing.
"It was the first time they appeared at the court and it's said that their trial will start on Aug. 7. We don't know yet whether defence lawyers have been arranged for them or not," he told Reuters.
As one of the former Burma's most recognised public faces, Zarganar had been a focal point of the informal relief effort by private citizens into the delta. Unsanctioned donors were frequently harassed and intimidated by police and the military.
Secret police also seized Zarganar's computer and several banned films, including the latest Rambo movie and the leaked video of the lavish "champagne and diamonds" wedding in 2006 of junta supremo Than Shwe's daughter.
Relatives of Zarganar and the other three dissidents said they had not been informed of any court appearance or trial date, as is often the case with detained activists.
"Family members are normally contacted but we have not been contacted by anyone so far. We are really worried about them," one relative, who asked not to be named, said.
Myanmar's junta, the latest face of 46 years of military rule, is keeping a tighter-than-usual grip on public life as the 20th anniversary of nationwide democracy protests approaches on Aug. 8.
The so-called 8-8-88 uprising was crushed by the army with the loss of an estimated 3,000 lives. Dissidents who fled the crackdown are hoping the 20th anniversary will trigger a repeat, although analysts and diplomats say that is very unlikely. (Reporting by Aung Hla Tun; Writing by Ed Cropley; Editing by Darren Schuettler and Alex Richardson)