Thangyat Troupe Member Arrested over Performance Satirizing Military

By Zarni Mann 19 April 2019

MANDALAY—A member of the Peacock Generation Thangyat ensemble was arrested on Friday for participating in a performance that criticized the Myanmar military, the group said.

Mayangone Township police arrested Ma Kay Khine Tun at the Central Children’s Hospital, where she works as a nurse, in the morning.

“The police said she was being charged under Section 505(a) [of the Penal Code] in connection with her performance with Peacock Generation,” said Ko Zeyar Lwin, one of the group’s leaders.

Section 505(a) makes it a crime to engage in activity seen to undermine the military.

Four other group members—Ko Zeyar Lwin, Ko Paing Phyo Min, Ko Paing Ye Thu and Ma Su Yadana Myint—were sued by Lieutenant-Colonel Than Tun Myint under Article 66(d) of the Telecommunications Acts in Mayangone Township on Monday for their participation in the same event.

They were briefly detained at Mayangone Township Police Station on Monday and released on bail.

At an event during the Thingyan New Year festival in Yangon, the group performed a number of Thangyat songs that criticized the military. Thangyat is a traditional Burmese performing art in which a group of performers sing satirical songs criticizing the situation in the country, and the government, and highlighting the difficulties and suffering of the people. It is mainly performed during Thingyan.

Some members of the Peacock Generation group wore military uniforms during their satirical performance, which featured Thangyat songs critical of the military and government, and of the country’s political and economic situation.

“We were told we were sued because we used the military uniform and we criticized the military,” Ko Zeyar Lwin said.

“Freedom of speech and expression in our country is declining dramatically and the military has become more sensitive to criticism. The government can’t do anything regarding this matter because the 2008 Constitution bars it from doing so,” he said.

The Peacock Generation group comprises current and former members of the Student Union and has been performing for nine years.

The group said that while they have had performances banned and disrupted in the past, this was the first time any of its members had been arrested.

“Last year, we were forced to stop our performances and some pavilions did not allow us to perform. But this year we’ve faced many kinds of disturbance. We’ve been forced to stop performances, arrested and sued, so this year is the worst year for us, as we have not been able to perform freely,” Ko Zeyar Lwin said.

According to officers at Mayangone Police Station, the police were preparing to release Ma Kay Khine Tun on bail. Her first trial hearing has been scheduled for April 22.

“We are finished questioning her and she will be bailed out soon,” said the duty officer, who refused to provide further information.

The Peacock Generation members said they were astonished that their friend was to be allowed bail under Section 505, when other activists detained under the law, such as filmmaker U Min Htin Ko Ko Gyi, had been denied it.

“If our friend can be bailed under Section 505, we wonder why the courts are not considering allowing bail for U Min Htin Ko Ko Gyi, who is sick and needs medical attention,” Ko Zeyar Lwin said.

A military spokesperson could not be reached for comment on the Peacock Generation case.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) on Thursday urged authorities to drop the charges against the members of the Peacock Generation Thangyat group.

HRW also urged that the charges be dropped against U Min Htin Ko Ko Gyi, who was arrested and sued under Section 505(a) of the penal code for posting comments criticizing the 2008 Constitution on his Facebook page.

The court denied bail for U Min Htin Ko Ko Gyi, who is suffering from liver cancer.

Meanwhile, in a separate case, ex-Army Captain Ko Nay Myo Zin was arrested Friday and presented to Tike Gyi Township Court to face a lawsuit under Section 505. He is being sued for giving a speech against the military at an event in Aphyuk Township calling for the amendment of the 2008 Constitution. He was denied bail and sent to Insein Prison immediately following the court session.