Five members of a satirical poetry troupe have been handed jail terms for poking fun at Myanmar’s powerful military during a street performance in Yangon earlier this year.
They were among members of a troupe called Peacock Generation arrested in March and April for performing a thangyat, a traditional performance art combining poetry, comedy.
Kay Khine Tun, Zayar Lwin, Paing Pyo Min, Paing Ye Thu and Zaw Lin Htut were each jailed for a year after being found guilty undermining the military in a court in Yangon, Myanmar’s largest city.
Zay Yar Lwin, Paing Phyo Min and Paing Ye Thu also faces charges of online defamation for live streaming the performance on Facebook. Another performer Su Yadanar Myint faces the same charge.
During the performance, the members of the group took aim at the army’s share of power in parliament and showed the audience pictures of a dog wearing a military uniform.
One line from the satire labeled MPs from the military as “25 cow sh**s in a beautiful garden,” referring to the 25 percent of seats in parliament the military is allocated.
However, the generals failed to see the funny side of this troupe’s performance and all were charged under section 505 A of Myanmar’s Penal Code, which controls public statements regarding the military.
The have been held in Yangon’s notorious Insein prison since their arrest after being denied bail.
“I do not recognize the authority of the judiciary. Whether it is one day, or a year makes no difference,” Zay Yar Lwin, one of the convicted troupe members told reporters.
Su Yadanar Myint had also voiced defiance a day before the verdict, saying she did not fear prison.
“It’s nothing to be scared of … we can read books, we get to stay privately just with other political prisoners,” she was quoted by Al Jazeera as saying at a hearing on Oct. 29.
She will hear the final ruling in her case next month.
The convictions drew swift condemnation from human rights groups.
“This is an appalling verdict. Punishing people for performing a piece of satire speaks volumes about the dire state of freedom of expression in Myanmar,” said Joanne Mariner, Amnesty International’s research director for South East Asia.
“These activists are prisoners of conscience. They have already spent six months behind bars, just because the Myanmar authorities are too thin-skinned to tolerate the mildest criticism. Thangyat is a time-honored Myanmar tradition, and it is absurd to think it poses any real danger to the Myanmar military,” she said.
The artform has been used to mock the country’s leaders for more than a century. A ban on performances was imposed by the military in 1989 but was lifted in in 2013. However, performances are still supposed to be subject to strict censorship.
Peacock Generation said they did not seek permission from censors as they wanted to uphold the principle of freedom of expression.
“The censors would have cut lots of the lyrics,” Su Yadanar Myint told reporters.
Thinzar Shunlei Yi, a prominent youth activist, called on the country’s military to uphold Myanmar’s thangyat tradition.
“They should grow a thick skin, so they can actually listen to what younger people think about them,” Al Jazeera quoted her as saying.