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UA 147/19
Abgeschlossen am 22. November 2019

Jailed satire performers face more charges

AI-Index: ASA 16/1340/2019

Five members of the Peacock Generation, a Thangyat or a satirical poetry troupe, have been sentenced to one year’s imprisonment, after being detained for over six months, for their performance criticizing the military. They are facing further charges in different townships where they have also performed, including for livestreaming their performances. If found guilty of all charges, they face up to eight additional years in prison.

Additional information

Five members of the Peacock Generation—Kay Khine Tun, Paing Pyo Min, Paing Ye Thu, Zayar Lwin, and Zaw Lin Htut—were arrested in April 2019 after they performed Thangyat, a traditional performing art similar to slam poetry. They were wearing military uniforms and criticized the authorities. After spending six months in detention, the five were convicted on 30 October of violating Section 505 (a) of Myanmar’s Penal Code by making «statements conducing to public mischief» at Mayangon Township Court in Yangon, Myanmar’s largest city, and sentenced to one year in prison.

For sharing photos, videos and livestreaming performance on Facebook, Zayar Lwin, Paing Pyo Min and Paing Ye Thu also face charges under Section 66 (d) of the 2013 Telecommunications Law for «online defamation» at Mayangon Township Court where the five members were convicted. An additional member of the troupe, Su Yadanar Myint, also faces these charges.

Members of the troupe are facing the same charges in different townships because they were performing in various townships around Myanmar’s new year water festival in April. All charges have been filed by different military representatives (Lieutenant Colonels).

The Myanmar military continues to wield significant economic and political power in the country. It operates independently of civilian oversight. Under Myanmar’s 2008 Constitution, the military also has a guaranteed 25 per cent of seats in Parliament, giving it an effective veto over key constitutional amendments. It also controls the three key ministries of Defence, Border Affairs, and Home Affairs.

Section 505 (a) of the Penal Code criminalises anyone who «makes, publishes or circulates any statement, rumour or report,— (a) with intent to - cause, or which is likely to cause, any officer, soldier, sailor or airman, in the Army, Navy or Air Force to mutiny or otherwise disregard or fail in his duty», and carries a maximum sentence of 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 Law carries a maximum two-year prison sentence.

Thangyat is a Myanmar traditional art form which fuses poetry, comedy and music, and is usually performed during Myanmar’s New Year water festival in April and on other festive occasions. Public performances of Thangyat were banned in 1989 by the military but 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 arbitrarily restrict the right to freedom of expression, including Section 505 of the Penal Code and Section 66(d) of the 2013 Telecommunications Law.

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.

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