PEN America Condemns Sentencing of Five Myanmar Actors
Satirical poetry group given one-year sentences for mocking the military
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
**UPDATE: This press release has been amended to add that PEN Myanmar is also calling for the group members’ immediate release.**
(New York, NY) – A Myanmar court this week sentenced five actors to a year in prison with hard labor for making fun of the military. PEN America and PEN Myanmar said it marked an explicit infringement of the right to creative expression and should be overturned.
Five members of the Peacock Generation, a satirical poetry troupe, were first arrested in April after their Thangyat performance – a traditional Burmese performance art that is satirical in nature, similar to slam poetry – during Myanmar’s new year celebrations. Their performance contained several mocking remarks directed at the military and its involvement with business. While the country is no longer ruled by the military, its leaders continue to wield influence.
The five performers were charged under Section 505(a) of Myanmar’s penal code. On Wednesday, they were convicted of circulating information that could “endanger or demoralize members of the military” and sentenced to one year in prison with hard labor. Three of the members arrested along with another group member were also charged under Section 66(d) of the Telecommunications Act for “online defamation” as their performances were livestreamed on Facebook.
“The imprisonment of these five young creative artists echoes the harsh punishments meted out to satirical poets and comedians such as Zarnagar during the years of military rule,” said Karin Deutsch Karlekar, director of Free Expression At Risk Programs at PEN America. “Satire has a long and rich history in Myanmar and constitutes a vital form of expression. This deplorable sentence is proof positive that the military and government authorities are dangerously thin-skinned, as these performers have committed no crime. We call for the decision to be overturned, for the reform of repressive laws that landed these performers in prison in the first place, and for the members of the Peacock Generation troupe to be released without delay.”
Under the ruling National League for Democracy government, hoped-for improvements in the environment for free expression have not materialized. Instead, an increasing number of journalists, activists, creative artists, and individual citizens have been arrested or jailed for their speech. Dozens of cases have been filed under restrictive laws including provisions in the penal code, the Official Secrets Act, and Section 66(d) of the Telecommunications Law, among others. Though the May 7 pardon and release of Reuters journalists Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, recipients of PEN America’s 2018 PEN/Barbey Freedom to Write Award, was a step in the right direction, many others remain behind bars or face criminal charges for their peaceful expression.
For more on PEN America’s work on Myanmar, click here.
PEN America stands at the intersection of literature and human rights to protect open expression in the United States and worldwide. We champion the freedom to write, recognizing the power of the word to transform the world. Our mission is to unite writers and their allies to celebrate creative expression and defend the liberties that make it possible.
CONTACT: Stephen Fee, Director of Communications, [email protected], +1 202 309 8892