Myanmar Satire Performer Gets Six Months Added to Sentence For Mocking Army

Myanmar Satire Performer Gets Six Months Added to Sentence For Mocking Army Zayar Lwin (L), a leader of the Peacock Generation performance troupe, is led to zayar-lwin being brought to the Maubin Township Court to receive a sentence on defamation charges in Myanmar's Ayeyarwady region, Dec. 15, 2020.
Photo courtesy of Zayar Lwin/Facebook

A leader of a satirical troupe in Myanmar has had six months added to a roughly six-year prison sentence for posting a video clip on social media mocking the powerful military in a skit during the country’s annual New Year’s celebration in 2019.

Zayar Lwin of the Peacock Generation troupe was sentenced under Section 66(d) of the Telecommunications Law for defamation charges filed by a high-ranking military officer in Ayeyarwady region.

He and other members of the group have undergone a series of trials in several township courts for mocking the army while performing thangyat, a satirical work akin to modern slam poetry that usually includes humorous criticism of politics, society, and the military.

Monday’s sentence was the latest punishment for Zayar Lwin, who must serve six years in total based on jail time handed down in other court cases.   

“I got another six months’ sentence, so the total prison term will be six years for eight cases,” Zayar Lwin told RFA. “I believe that this action is a kind of retaliation based on a grudge.” 

“We do not want army representatives in parliaments anymore,” he said. “We do not want the army in a political leading role. We want to amend the 2008 constitution. That is why we criticized the military in the thangyat.”

The constitution, drafted by a military junta that formerly ran the country, enshrines the political power of the military by guaranteeing officers a quarter of the seats in national, state, and regional legislatures. 

Zayar Lwin said that the ruling National League for Democracy (NLD) government, which will begin a second five-year term in 2021, should review vaguely worded defamation statutes frequently used by those in power and the military to silence critics, activists, and right groups. 

“If we see court decisions [like this], it sends a clear message for the parliament under the next NLD administration to amend these oppressive laws,” said Maung Saungkha, executive director and co-founder of the freedom of expression activist group Athan. 

Not good for country’s image

Military officers filed defamation charges against Zayar Lwin and six other student performers under Sections 66(d) of the Telecommunications Law and Section 505(a) of Myanmar’s Penal Code, which pertains to the circulation of statements, rumors, or reports with the intent to cause military officers to disregard or fail in their duties. They filed the cases in eight township courts in Ayeyarwady and Yangon regions, where the troupe had performed.

Four of the student performers were released after completing prison terms, though  Zayar Lwin and two others — Paing Ye Thu and Paing Phyo Min — remain in jail.

Aung Myo Kyaw of the Yangon office of the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP Burma) says the charges, trials, and sentences are an abuse against freedom of expression.

“Freedom of expression is a universal declaration, and all citizens have this right per the 2008 constitution,” he said. “The army filings against the Peacock Generation thangyat troupe in multiple courts for the same activity were so distorted.”

“This will not be a good image for our country among members of the international community, so authorities need to reconsider [the sentences] and free them as soon as possible,” he added. 

RFA could not reach Myanmar military spokesmen for comment. 

Myanmar national leader Aung San Suu Kyi, the 1991 Nobel Peace laureate, won a fresh five-year mandate in a landslide victory last month by her NLD. Both she and key NLD leaders spent years as political prisoners under a ruling military junta.

But Aung San Suu Kyi’s first five-year term is winding down with 584 political prisoners now in various stages of incarceration or prosecution, according to the AAPP Burma, a nonprofit human rights group based in Thailand.

Reported by Kyaw Lwin Oo and Nayrein Kyaw for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Nayrein Kyaw. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.

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