February 20th, 2020
Burma: Draconian laws sends poets to jail
Peacock Generation is a poetry group based in Burma with a string of charges against them. On 17th February 2020, three members of the group were convicted of “online defamation” and sentenced to six months in prison whilst four members were acquitted. Their crime? Posting photos and videos and livestreaming performances of their art form on Facebook.
Seven members of the group were initially arrested in April and May 2019 after their traditional Thangyat performance, similar to slam poetry. They were wearing military uniforms and criticized the military.
Five other members of the group were sentenced late October 2019 to one year in prison under Section 505(a) of the Penal Code, which prohibits the circulation of statements and reports with the intent to cause officers or soldiers in the Myanmar Armed Forces “to mutiny or otherwise disregard or fail in their duties”.
Additionally, in November 2019 another six members were given one year in prison under the same section, and again, in December 2019, four more members were given an additional six months in jail are being found guilty of “online defamation”.
Thangyat is usually performed during Burma’s New Year water festival in April and other festive occasions. The traditional Burmese art form brings together poetry, comedy and music. Public performances were banned from 1989 to 2013 by the military but they are obviously still heavily vetting groups who choose to perform it.
Nicholas Bequelin, Amnesty International’s Regional Director responded saying “It beggars belief that these young, brave people are behind bars for sharing videos and photos online. Their performances are all about aspirations for a better future. The fact they’ve been subjected to these outrageous trials and convictions shows just how vindictive the Myanmar military is…The authorities would rather punish the youth than reflect on the criticisms presented peacefully through their performances…With elections around the corner, Aung San Suu Kyi and the ruling NLD party are running out of time to repeal or amend draconian laws and fully protect freedom of expression. It is time to consign these laws to history once and for all.”
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