The Irrawaddy

Murky Waters: Burma’s Law on Pornography

An illustration of the adult movie ‘The Violet of Myanmar’ (Photo: The Irrawaddy)

Taking advantage of Internet freedom in Burma can run huge risks—especially if you have aspirations to be a porn star or a producer in the porn industry.

Last week, police began investigating those who allegedly produced and intended to sell via social media a HD porn movie. But it is unclear what laws would be used to jail the filmmakers and actors.

A conviction would also leave customers disappointed.

The actress in the movie—entitled ‘The Violet of Myanmar’—wears a surgical mask throughout the film, concealing her identity.

“Who was she?” Some audience members eagerly asked. They may never find out, now that she is believed to be on the run.

Reportedly the first HD Burmese adult film released for worldwide audiences, ‘The Violet of Myanmar’ caused one social media user to remark: “Our country is taking to the international stage!”

The nationalist Buddhist association Ma Ba Tha, known for its turgid conservative views, did not release a statement on this occasion.

Police told local media they were launching a criminal investigation to take action against those behind the film and said the production is “concerned with technology.”

Perhaps the most relevant legislation is Burma’s Electronic Transactions Law, which bans “receiving or sending and distributing any information” detrimental to state security, law and order, community peace and tranquility, national solidarity, the national economy, or national culture. Violators can face fines and jail for seven to 15 years.

No matter what police say, one cannot deny there is a market for such material, and since there are no web restrictions on adult movie sites, Burmese people can still turn to the Internet.

In this case, the law is obscure because Burma doesn’t have any regulations on adult movies, unlike the US, Japan, the UK, and other European countries. In many Southeast Asia nations, the creation, distribution, sale, and rental of explicit adult movies and pornography is prohibited.

Yet in Burma, much needed laws and restrictions on the industry are absent.

Adult or pornography movies are called Nyit Nyan Yoke Shin, or A Pya’car, both meaning “dirty movies” in Buddhist-majority Burma.

But one could find and buy foreign adult films on the streets of Rangoon, Mandalay, or somewhere near the China border where porn DVDs are sold openly on the streets.

During the regime of dictator Ne Win, police would crack down on the sale and possession of porn tapes because they said it was against Burmese culture and laws.

They would also arrest sex workers and people in possession of condoms, which illegal to buy and sell during the so-called socialist period.

Those who wanted to watch foreign-made adult films had to count on having friends in the elite. Nobody would bother them in the safety and protection of rich and influential people’s houses.

Like in North Korea, reports say that possession of pornography or erotic movies became widespread among political and army elites during the late 1990s. Unsurprisingly, most adult and pornography movies watched in North Korea are currently made abroad, as they are in Burma.

Ne Win and his police were tough on condoms and prostitution, but it slowly loosened up in the late 90s. Condoms became available to buy in big shops and now you can buy them in convenience stores.

Prostitution is still illegal in poverty-stricken Burma, though sex workers wait in the lounges and bars of various establishments, from guesthouses to five-star hotels.

Some young girls can also be seen waiting on the roadside for customers.

Faced with economic hardship, many young women seek steady income selling sex, but there are no clear laws and regulations for the sex trade.

When the regime was in power, police were known to solicit money from sex workers and brothel owners. Now there are some sex workers associations in Burma, but they remain low key.

Burma’s political opening received praise at home and abroad, but its society remains relatively conservative. As in the past, sex is still a taboo subject. Sex education is not provided at schools and parents generally avoid talking about it.

Now brothels masquerading as KTVs and guesthouses are mushrooming all over Rangoon and Mandalay, as obtaining licenses has become easier.

In its initial 100-day campaign, the new government targeted unlicensed massage parlours and KTVs. In May 2016, authorities closed down nine massage parlours in Naypyidaw to ensure the rule of law.

Art of Myanmar, the production group behind ‘The Violet of Myanmar,’ stated it aimed to produce more genre-specific and hardcore porn films in the future.

First they would have to find their porn stars, who might be in hiding, and then deal with the country’s obscure laws.