Three members of the Peacock Generation poetry troupe were sentenced to six months imprisonment each for “online defamation” after a performance uploaded to the internet sparked a series of legal cases against them.
The law entails up to three years imprisonment for “extorting, coercing, restraining wrongfully, defaming, disturbing, causing undue influence, or threatening any person using a telecommunications network.”
Four other members of the Peacock Generation poetry troupe — Zeyar Lwin, Paing Ye Thu, Zaw Lin Htut, and Nyein Chan Soe — were acquitted.
The seven artists were arrested in April and May of 2019 after performing a “thangyat” — a form of performance art that blends folk verse and music with some similarities to slam poetry in the West.
The troupe were wearing military type uniforms during the performance and criticized the military, which ruled the country from 1962 to 2011 and continues to play an outsized role in the country. They both live-streamed the performance, as well posted photos and videos to the internet.
The performers have faced eight legal cases in relation to the social media uploads, with judgements being rendered in four.
“We performed this same thangyat in different areas. Then they prosecuted us in different cases for the same performance in different township courts. This suggests they prosecuted with [a] grudge and prejudice,” Mizzima News cites troupe leader Zeyar Lwin as saying.
Amnesty International has harshly condemned the convictions.
“It beggars belief that these young, brave people are behind bars for sharing videos and photos online. Their performances are all about aspirations for a better future. The fact they’ve been subjected to these outrageous trials and convictions shows just how vindictive the Myanmar military is,” Amnesty International’s Regional Director Nicholas Bequelin said.
“The authorities would rather punish the youth than reflect on the criticisms presented peacefully through their performances. These convictions and sentences should be quashed, detained members of the group immediately and unconditionally released, and all further charges against them dropped.”
He added that with elections approaching, Aung San Suu Kyis’ ruling National League for Democracy was “running out of time to repeal or amend draconian laws and fully protect freedom of expression.”
This is not the first time members of the group have been locked up for their performances.
On Oct. 30, 2019, five members of the group were sentenced to one year each in a military defamation case.
The following month, six members of the group were convicted under the same section of the Penal Code —505(a) — which prohibits the publication or circulation of any statement, rumor, or report with the intent to cause soldiers to mutiny or disregard their duty.
On Dec. 11, 2019, four members of the group were given additional six-months in prison for “online defamation.”