Responding to news that three members of the Peacock Generation poetry troupe were convicted and sentenced to six months in prison for “online defamation” today for sharing their performances on social media, Amnesty International’s Regional Director Nicholas Bequelin said:
“It beggars belief that these young, brave people are behind bars for sharing videos and photos online. Their performances are all about aspirations for a better future. The fact they’ve been subjected to these outrageous trials and convictions shows just how vindictive the Myanmar military is.
“The authorities would rather punish the youth than reflect on the criticisms presented peacefully through their performances. These convictions and sentences should be quashed, detained members of the group immediately and unconditionally released, and all further charges against them dropped.
“With elections around the corner, Aung San Suu Kyi and the ruling NLD party are running out of time to repeal or amend draconian laws and fully protect freedom of expression. It is time to consign these laws to history once and for all.”
Seven members of the Peacock Generation – Kay Khine Tun, Zayar Lwin, Paing Phyo 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.
Today, three members of the group – Kay Khine Tun, Paing Phyo Min and Su Yadanar Myint – were convicted of “online defamation” at Botahtaung Township Court and sentenced to six months in prison under Section 66(d) of the 2013 Telecommunications Act for posting photos and videos and livestreaming performances on Facebook. The four other members were acquitted. This is the group’s fourth conviction in recent months.
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 the 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”.
On 18 November 2019, six members of the group were again convicted and sentenced to one year in prison under Section 505(a), this time at Yangon’s Botahtaung Township Court. A seventh performer, Nyein Chan Soe, was acquitted of the charge.
On 11 December 2019, four members of the group were given additional six-month jail terms after being found guilty of “online defamation” under Section 66(d) at 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 popular 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 only allowed again in 2013.