Five members of a satirical poetry troupe in Myanmar have been jailed for making fun of the country’s military.
The group, Peacock Generation, was arrested in April over their “thangyat” – a traditional art form that combines spoken word poetry, comedy and dance.
The performers were found guilty of undermining the military and were each sentenced to one year in prison.
Three members of the group face additional charges for livestreaming the performance on Facebook.
The five poets – Kay Khine Tun, Zay Yar Lwin, Paing Pyo Min, Paing Ye Thu and Zaw Lin Htut – were charged under law 505.A, which controls public statements.
They were convicted in a court in Yangon (Rangoon), the largest city in Myanmar (also called Burma) and its former capital.
In the performance, they criticised the army’s share of power in parliament, and showed the audience pictures of a dog wearing a military jacket.
Delivering his verdict, Judge Tun Kyaw said: “It is obvious that this is not unintentional, as they performed in front of the public with those phrases. The troupe is found guilty.”
All five denied wrongdoing.
Speaking after the verdict, Zay Yar Lwin told reporters: “I do not recognise the authority of the judiciary. Whether it is one day or a year makes no difference.”
‘Freedom of expression in a dire state’
Myanmar’s government is increasingly using its powers to imprison people who criticise the authorities, including journalists, artists and dissidents.
The country’s civilian government, led by Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi, has made very few changes to the draconian laws it inherited from the five decades of military dictatorship that preceded it.
Amnesty International said the verdict against the Peacock Generation poets was “appalling”.
“Punishing people for performing a piece of satire speaks volumes about the dire state of freedom of expression in Myanmar,” Joanne Mariner, the human rights group’s South East Asia research director, said.
“These activists are prisoners of conscience. They have already spent six months behind bars, just because the Myanmar authorities are too thin-skinned to tolerate the mildest criticism.”
According to Athan, a freedom of speech advocacy group in Myanmar, 26 people were charged under the same law in the first half of 2019.