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Outrage as Myanmar satirists are jailed again

Rights groups slam 'ludicrous' charges faced by Peacock Generation members for mocking the military

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Outrage as Myanmar satirists are jailed again

Peacock Generation performer Zayer Lwin waves from a prison van after a trial in Yangon on Nov. 18. Six members of the satirical group received a second prison sentence for a performance that criticized the military. (Photo: Sai Aung Main/AFP)

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Rights groups have reacted with anger after a group of Myanmar satirists received a second jail term for a performance that mocked the military.

Amnesty International described the case as “ludicrous” after a court in Botahtaung township court on Nov. 18 sentenced six members of the Peacock Generation troupe to one year with hard labor. A seventh performer was acquitted.

Five members of the group were sentenced to one year under the same penal code by a court in Yangon, Myanmar’s commercial city, on Oct. 31.

Section 505(a) of the criminal code makes it a crime to make any statement “with intent to cause, or which is likely to cause, any officer, soldier, sailor or airman in the army, navy or air force to mutiny or otherwise disregard or fail in his duty.”

The performers have been held without bail in notorious Insein prison since April after the military slapped a lawsuit on them over their performance.

All seven performers are facing additional charges under Section 66(d) for defaming the military, which has a maximum prison sentence of two years. They will also face more charges resulting from lawsuits in townships in the Irrawaddy Division where they had performed.

“We will keep criticizing and pointing out the flawed system in different ways because it is important for us to amend the constitution and to get the military out of politics so that we can pursue genuine democracy in Myanmar,” the seven Peacock Generation members said in an open letter published on the Civicus website on Nov. 15.

Rights groups have decried the jail terms and called on authorities to immediately quash all the verdicts and drop pending charges.

Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch, said court rulings that performance artists are a threat to the military make a mockery of free expression rights.

“The Myanmar military’s ridiculous efforts to intimidate these actors for satirizing the military show how long they will stoop to silence critics,” Robertson said.

Nicholas Bequelin, Amnesty International’s director for East and Southeast Asia, said these new convictions are “signs of a relentless assault on freedom of expression in Myanmar.”

“It is ludicrous that these performers have yet to face even more charges and jail terms in the future,” Bequelin added.

More than 250 people faced criminal cases under laws that restrict freedom of expression in the first six months of 2019, according to rights groups.

Myanmar’s military crackdown on dissidents comes as international pressure mounts over atrocities committed against the Rohingya in Rakhine state. The bloody crackdown has forced more than 700,000 members of the mostly Muslim community into neighboring Bangladesh since August 2017.

The United Nations-mandated Fact Finding Mission on Myanmar has said military commanders must answer charges of war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide.

After ruling Myanmar with an iron fist for decades, the military still wields enormous power through its control of defense, home affairs and border security, and via its guaranteed 25 percent of parliamentary seats.

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