For months now, members of the Myanmar thangyat troupe Daung Doh Myo Sat (Peacock Generation) have been imprisoned in Insein Prison for a performance in which they donned military dress. The imprisoned artists are Ko Zeyar Lwin, Ko Paing Ye Thu, Ma Kay Khine Tun, Ko Phoe Thar and Ko Paing Phyo Min.
The Mayangone Township Court has denied the accused bail and has held the troupe members in Insein Prison since 22 April. They could face up to three years in prison.
In April, members of the group were arrested and detained in police custody in relation to their thangyat performance (a humorous and satirical poetry performance used to symbolise and externalise political or social commentary) in which they wore military costumes. This action was deemed to be mocking and defaming the military. The artists were later denied bail and remanded to Insein Prison.
The denial of bail and threat of years-long imprisonment is a consequence of two legislations being invoked at the same time which have been used to silence both physical and online criticisms of Myanmar authorities. This includes Article 505(a) of the Penal Code, which forbids acts, publication and the circulation of information that would cause military dissent causes the Defence Services to “fail in their duty” – with or without intent. Charges incur a maximum penalty of two years in jail and a fine and are are deemed non-bailable defamation offenses. The poets have been further charged under section 66(d) of the country’s Telecommunications Act further impacts non-violent military criticisms when they are circulated using the telecommunications network (in many cases, online and on social media), with “anyone found guilty of extorting, coercing, restraining wrongfully, defaming, disturbing, causing undue influence or threatening any person by using any telecommunications network shall be punished with a maximum three years in prison, a fine or both.”
This is one of a number of incidents whereby Myanmar authorities have utilised the non-parole specification of Article 505(a) in collaboration with the harsh incarceration period of section 66(d) to arbitrarily arrest and detain artists in an effort to restrict non-violent artistic protest and peaceful criticism of the government and military regime.
Poets in Myanmar and those who practice the traditional performance art thangyat are frequently being detained and prosecuted for “defamation” and “causing undue influence or threatening any person using a telecommunications network”.
We call for the release of all artists currently imprisoned and a repeal of all legislation which arbitrarily detains those who express themselves artistically.
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Release Peacock Generation from prison
Mayangone Township Court,
I, along with the undersigned artists and artistic freedom defenders, call on the Myanmar authorities to immediately release all imprisoned members of the thangyat troupe Daung Doh Myo Sat (Peacock Generation). This includes: Ko Zeyar Lwin, Ko Paing Ye Thu, Ma Kay Khine Tun, Ko Phoe Thar and Ko Paing Phyo Min.
The artists have been arrested and imprisoned for performing in military costumes – deemed to ‘defame’ the military. I acknowledge that poets play a crucial political role in Myanmar by highlighting the tensions felt within the regime, and these arbitrary detentions are an attempt to silence any criticism of authorial powers.
I ask that you and other authorities acknowledge that this sentencing would not meet the test of necessity, proportionality or legality of international human rights standards, especially those guaranteed under Article 19 of the ICCPR and as a result, release the poets unconditionally.
Thank you for your attention to this urgent matter. Sincerely,