Myanmar court jails satirical performers - GulfToday

Myanmar court jails satirical performers


Students from Dagon University perform Burmese traditional slam poetry or thangyat during Burmese New Year in Yangon. Reuters

A court in Myanmar sentenced five satirical performers to a year in jail with hard labour on Wednesday for shows that criticized the army’s role in politics.

The members of the Peacock Generation thangyat troupe were arrested in April for performances during celebrations of Myanmar’s traditional new year in which they poked fun at military representatives in parliament and military involvement in business. The military is a powerful political force in Myanmar even though the country has an elected government. Thangyat combines dance and music with verse that often has a satirical edge.

During shows and a Facebook broadcast, they criticised the army’s share of a quarter of the seats in parliament and shared pictures of a dog in a military jacket.

“It is obvious that this is not unintentional, as they performed in front of public with those phrases,” Judge Tun Kyaw told the court. “The troupe was found guilty.”

The five had denied any wrongdoing in a case that had been condemned by human rights groups as a negative step in Myanmar’s faltering transition to democracy.

One of the five, 28-year-old Zayar Lwin, told reporters after the verdict: “I do not recognise the authority of the judiciary. Whether it is one day or a year makes no difference.”

It was the first of five cases brought by the military under law 505.A, which covers public statements and carries a maximum sentence of two years in prison.

The Thangyat tradition features a mix of comedy and slam poetry set to drums. Troupes complained that they were told to submit lyrics to a censor this year by the first democratic government in 50 years. According to Athan, a free speech group, 26 people were charged under 505.A in the first six months of 2019.

“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,” said Joanne Mariner, research director for Southeast Asia for the human rights organisation Amnesty International.

“These activists are prisoners of conscience,” she said in an emailed statement. “They have already spent six months behind bars, just because the Myanmar authorities are too thin-skinned to tolerate the mildest criticism.” The offense is punishable by up to two years in prison, and release on bail is not allowed.


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