On 15 and 19 April 2019, members of the Myanmar thangyat troupe–a satirical poetry group–Daung Doh Myo Sat (Peacock Generation) were arrested for wearing military costumes in a performance they later live-streamed on Facebook. According to Radio Free Asia, a further two members were later arrested.
According to Frontier Myanmar, the imprisoned members 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 held the troupe members in Insein Prison since 22 April.
Freemuse Executive Director Dr Srirak Plipat said, “The imprisoned members of Peacock Generation are entitled to the right to exercise their art as a vehicle for expression–including criticising authorial powers and holding them to account. We call on the Myanmar authorities and the Mayangone Township Court to release the five members and drop all current charges.”
According to Human Rights Watch, Lieutenant-Colonel Than Tun Myint from the Yangon Command lodged complaints against the members of the group who were remanded into custody. The criminal complaints are lodged under Article 505(a) of the country’s penal code which “prohibits making, publishing or circulating any statement, rumour or report with the intention of causing a member of the Defence Services to mutiny or otherwise disregard or fail in their duty is liable to a maximum penalty of two years’ jail and a fine” reports Frontier Myanmar.
Three of the imprisoned members will face the secondary charge of online defamation, along with Ma Su Yadanar Myint under section 66(d) of the country’s Telecommunications Act. They have yet to face the Court on this charge. While this charge allows the accused to apply for bail, the former charge under Article 505(a) prohibits a bail application.
This latest incident is a part of a growing trend of censoring poets on social media in Myanmar. According to Radio Free Asia, on 12 April 2019, poet and documentary film director Min Htin Ko Ko Gy was arrested and later charged under both Article 505(a) and the Telecommunications Act for writing Facebook posts critical of the military. Once more, the use of Article 505(a) meant that Min Htin Ko Ko Gy was denied bail. Freemuse reported another incident in 2016 where poet Maung Saung Kha was sentenced to six months in prison for defaming former president Thein Sein in a poem he posted on his Facebook page.
This use of Article 505(a) to silence artists and artistic expression deeply impacts the human rights of those in Myanmar and has the potential to leave long-term damage on the state of culture, art and artistic expression in the country.