The Secret's out #secretball | Press release me, let me go | 9 Mar 2012 | Amnesty International UK

The Secret's out #secretball

It’s a rare sight to find Russell Brand, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Kristen Wiig, The Muppets, Eddie Izzard and Coldplay all on the same stage. But rather impressively, that’s exactly what happened at this week’s Secret Policeman’s Ball. These incredible men, women and err… puppets joined a host of other talented comedians and musicians to shout about free speech and freedom of expression with Amnesty.

Staged at New York’s Radio City Music Hall in front of an audience of 6,000 people last Sunday and screened on Channel 4 tonight, the Ball features several talented comedians, actors and musicians celebrating free speech with Amnesty.

Listening from backstage last Sunday, I could hear how performances by stars such as Jack Whitehall, Russell Brand and Noel Fielding, John Oliver and Sarah Silverman produced some of the loudest belly laughs from the audience, while both Mumford and Sons and Coldplay literally brought people to their feet.  Despite it being the first time Americans had a taste of a live Secret Policemena’s Ball, the likes of the Guardian and the Independent describe how it was pretty well received by an American audience.

One of my personal favourites has to be Statler and Waldorf of the Muppets, which is why I was delighted that they were regularly dotted throughout the Show. Have a watch of the great mashup at the top of this post.

But the act which personified why Amnesty holds Secret Policeman’s Balls, and which literally had the New York audience spellbound was Burmese comedian Zarganar.

Zarganar was introduced to the stage by actor Liam Neeson who explained how this famous Burmese comedian had been sentenced to 35 years imprisonment for criticising the Burmese government’s treatment of victims at Cyclone Nargis. Through incredible international pressure from Amnesty and others, thankfully Zarganar was released after just three years in prison. But during that time, Zarganar was torture and spent several months in solitary confinement.

Zarganar’s imprisonment hasn’t stopped him from cracking jokes or celebrating free speech.  In fact, as he explained to a Today programme reporter he has no intention of stopping (scroll through to two hours and 20 minutes in). Zarganar is one of the few people on the stage who really knew what it was like to be denied their right to freedom of expression. And he and the others on the stage were determined to celebrate and exercise this right.  He really does sum up exactly why we need to continue celebrating free speech and to defend everyone’s human rights.

An edited version of the full show will be screened on Channel 4 tonight at 10pm. Some parts of the full show are sadly not appearing in the television edit this evening (Zarganar for example), so you’ll have to check out Amnesty’s and Channel 4’s website for more of the Ball’s best bits.

The Radio Times have written a great historical piece on the Balls. Definitely worth a read.


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