Myanmar: Satire performers who mocked military face prison in “appalling” conviction

Responding to the conviction and one-year prison sentence handed down to five members of the Peacock Generation, a satirical poetry troupe, Joanne Mariner, Amnesty International’s research director for South East Asia, said:

“This is an appalling verdict. Punishing people for performing a piece of satire speaks volumes about the dire state of freedom of expression in Myanmar.

Thangyat is a time-honoured Myanmar tradition. It is absurd to think it poses any real danger to the Myanmar military.
Joanne Mariner, research director for South East Asia

“These activists are prisoners of conscience. They have already spent six months behind bars, just because the Myanmar authorities are too thin-skinned to tolerate the mildest criticism. Thangyat is a time-honoured Myanmar tradition, and it is absurd to think it poses any real danger to the Myanmar military.

“The authorities must immediately quash these convictions, drop all further charges against the Peacock Generation, and release its members immediately. With a general election just around the corner, the NLD government led by Aung San Suu Kyi must use the legislative power it still possesses to urgently repeal or amend all laws that unduly restrict freedom of expression.”

Background

Five members of the Peacock Generation—Kay Khine Tun, Zayar Lwin, Paing Pyo Min, Paing Ye Thu and Zaw Lin Htut—were arrested in April 2019 after they performed Thangyat, a traditional performance art akin to slam poetry. They were wearing military uniforms and criticized the authorities.

On 30 October 2019, they were convicted under Section 505 (a) of Myanmar’s Penal Code at Mayangon Township Court in Yangon, Myanmar’s largest city, and sentenced to one year in prison.

For livestreaming performances on Facebook, Zay Yar Lwin, Paing Phyo Min and Paing Ye Thu also face charges under Section 66 (d) of the Telecommunication Act for “online defamation.” An additional member of the troupe, Su Yadanar Myint, also faces these charges.

All six of them and another member, Nyein Chan Soe, also face charges under Section 505 (a) of the Penal Code at Yangon’s Botahtaung Township Court.

Members of the Peacock Generation are facing the same charges in a number of other townships outside Yangon where they have performed Thangyat.

Section 505 (a) of the Penal Code prohibits the circulation of statements and reports with the intent to cause officers or soldiers in the Myanmar Armed Forces to mutiny or otherwise disregard or fail in their duties, and carries a maximum sentence of up to two years in prison. The provision is a “non-bailable” offence, and the decision to grant bail rests with a judge. In this case, the judge denied their bail request. Section 66 (d) of the 2013 Telecommunication Act carries a maximum two-year prison sentence.

Thangyat is a century-old Myanmar traditional art form which fuses poetry, comedy and music, and is usually performed during Myanmar’s New Year water festival in April and other festive occasions. Public performances of Thangyat were banned in 1989 by the military and were allowed again in 2013. In March 2019, ahead of this year’s water festival festivities, authorities in Yangon required Thangyat lyrics to be submitted to a government panel for approval.

The Myanmar authorities continue to arrest and imprison activists and human rights defenders simply for peacefully exercising their right to freedom of expression, which is enshrined in Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). Amnesty International is concerned about a number of laws in Myanmar that restrict the right to freedom of expression, including Section 505 of the Penal Code and Section 66(d) of the 2013 Telecommunications Act.

Earlier this year, the military arrested filmmaker Min Htin Ko Ko Gyi under Section 505 (a) of the Penal Code for making a series of Facebook posts criticizing the Myanmar’s military’s role in politics. Despite his health concerns – he underwent a major surgery for liver cancer early this year – his bail request was denied and he received a one-year prison sentence.