Satirical Troupe Face Extra Prison Terms for Ridiculing Myanmar’s Military

By Zaw Zaw Htwe 11 June 2020

Yangon – Members of the Daungdohmyoset (Peacock Generation) troupe who criticized the military in their satirical performances are facing fresh jail terms at courts in Ayeyarwady Region after already serving several sentences in Yangon.

The troupe’s leaders, Ko Zayar Lwin and Ko Paing Ye Thu, have been sentenced to 3½ years, and fellow leader Ko Paing Pyoe Min, was sentenced to up to four years by courts in Yangon and Ayeyarwady. On Thursday they were additionally sentenced to one year in prison by the Maubin Township Court in Ayeyarwady Region under Article 505(a) of the penal code for criticizing the military in their Thangyat performances.

The three leaders and other members will also face additional sentences from two charges filed by the military at different townships in Ayeyarwady Region.

Ko Zayar Lwin, Ko Paing Ye Thu and Ko Paing Phyoe Min are scheduled to appear in Dedaye Township Court in Ayeyarwady Region on Friday facing more Article 505(a) charges.

About 25 members have to appear at the Pathein Township Court in the region under Article 66(d) of the Telecommunications Law.

During the 2019 Thingyan water festival, the troupe held Thanyat performances in two townships in Yangon and four Ayeyarwady townships.

Performers in the Thangyat troupe perform at Yangon’s Thaketa Township during the Thingyan New Year festival in April 2019. / Htet Wai

The military filed about eight lawsuits against the performers in April and May 2019, alleging that the performances criticized the military, undermining respect for officers and potentially encouraging a mutiny.

Articles 505(a) of the penal code and 66(d) of the Telecommunications Law have been used by the military to file lawsuits against troupe members.

Article 505(a) says anyone making any statement which could cause personnel to mutiny or disregard their duty can result in a two-year prison term.

Any citizen can use Article 66(d) to sue for alleged online abuse, regardless of whether they were the subject of the remarks. It carries a threat of three years in prison and is deeply controversial for alleged defamation. The law has come to be interpreted as any use of the internet, so sharing a Facebook post that casts someone in a negative light can be grounds for prosecution.

On February 17, Ma Su Yadnar Myint, Ma Kay Khine Tun and Ko Paing Pyoe Min were sentenced to six months in prison by Botahtaung Township Court in Yangon under Telecommunication Law charges filed by a military officer.

Ko Zayar Lwin, Ko Paing Ye Thu, Ko Paing Pyoe Min, Zaw Lin Htut, Nyein Chan Soe, Ma Su Yandanar Myint and Ma Kay Khine Tun were sentenced to a year in prison with hard labor by the same court on November 18, 2019, under Article 505(a).

Ko Zayar Lwin, Ko Paing Ye Thu, Ko Paing Phyoe Min and Ma Su Yadanar Myint were jailed for six months by Mayangone Township Court on December 11, 2019, under Article 66(d).

On October 30, 2019, Ko Zayar Lwin, Paing Ye Thu, Paing Phyoe Min, Zaw Linn Htut and Ma Kay Khine Tun were sentenced to one year in prison under Article 505(a) by the same court.

Ko Zayar Lwin told The Irrawaddy on Thursday that they never expected justice because the courts accept all lawsuits from the military without question.

The troupe had not used lawyers or challenged the charges because it did not trust the judiciary, he said.

“Our political stand will not change because of imprisonments. We will keep taking on the military to get them out of politics,” said Ko Zayar Lwin.

Athan, a Myanmar-based organization advocating freedom of expression, recently reported that between April 2016 to March this year, 66 lawsuits were filed against those who criticized Myanmar’s military.

It said 52 lawsuits were filed directly by military officers against critics.

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