Myanmar: Satire performers convicted of more “ludicrous” charges

Responding to the conviction and one-year prison sentence handed down to six members of the Peacock Generation, a satirical poetry troupe, Nicholas Bequelin, Amnesty International’s Director for East and Southeast Asia said:

“These new convictions against the Peacock Generation are signs of a relentless assault on freedom of expression in Myanmar. The military are going after these brave, talented satirists to make an example of them.

The military are going after these brave, talented satirists to make an example of them.
Nicholas Bequelin

“It is ludicrous that these performers have yet to face even more charges and jail terms in the future. The authorities must end this madness and release them all immediately and without conditions. Their convictions should be quashed and all remaining charges against them dropped.

“While these charges were brought by members of the military, the NLD commands a majority in Parliament and is allowing such cases to continue by failing to abolish draconian laws. It’s time for Parliament to stand up for freedom of expression and consign these appalling laws to history.”

Background

Seven members of the Peacock Generation – Kay Khine Tun, Zayar Lwin, Paing Pyo Min, Paing Ye Thu, Zaw Lin Htut, Su Yadanar Myint, and Nyein Chan Soe – were arrested in April and May 2019 after they performed Thangyat, a traditional performance art akin to slam poetry. They were wearing military uniforms and criticized the military, also known as the Tatmadaw.

On 30 October 2019, five members of the group were each sentenced to one year in prison by the Mayangon Township Court in Yangon, Myanmar’s largest city, after being convicted of violating Section 505(a) of Myanmar’s Penal Code, which 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”.

Today’s convictions, delivered by Yangon’s Botahtaung Township Court, were also for charges under Section 505(a) of the Penal Code. Six members of the group were each sentenced to one year in prison. The seventh, Nyein Chan Soe, was acquitted of the charge.

All seven members face additional charges of “online defamation” under Section 66(d) of the 2013 Telecommunications Act for posting photos and videos and livestreaming performances on Facebook at Botahtaung Township Court. Four members of the group—Zay Yar Lwin, Paing Phyo Min, Su Yadanar Myint and Paing Ye Thu—are also facing Section 66(d) charges at the Mayangon Township Court. Section 66(d) carries a maximum two-year prison sentence. 

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

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.