October 30, 2019 / 1:04 PM / 20 days ago

Myanmar court jails satirical performers

FILE PHOTO: Students from Dagon University perform Burmese traditional slam poetry or thangyat during Burmese New Year in Yangon, Myanmar, April 13, 2019. REUTERS/Ann Wang/File Photo

YANGON (Reuters) - A court in Myanmar sentenced five satirical performers to a year in jail with hard labor on Wednesday for shows that criticized the army’s role in politics.

The five were arrested after taking part in Thangyat, a centuries-old tradition during Myanmar’s new year water festival in April. It pokes fun at the flaws and foibles of the social and political system.

During shows and a Facebook broadcast, they criticized the army’s share of a quarter of the seats in parliament and shared pictures of a dog in a military jacket.

“It is obvious that this is not unintentional, as they performed in front of public with those phrases,” Judge Tun Kyaw told the court. “The troupe was found guilty.”

The five had denied any wrongdoing in a case that had been condemned by human rights groups as a negative step in Myanmar’s faltering transition to democracy.

One of the five, 28-year-old Zayar Lwin, told reporters after the verdict: “I do not recognize the authority of the judiciary. Whether it is one day or a year makes no difference.”

It was the first of five cases brought by the military under law 505.A, which covers public statements and carries a maximum sentence of two years in prison.

The Thangyat tradition features a mix of comedy and slam poetry set to drums. Troupes complained that they were told to submit lyrics to a censor this year by the first democratic government in 50 years.

According to Athan, a free speech group, 26 people were charged under 505.A in the first six months of 2019.

Editing by Matthew Tostevin and Steve Orlofsky

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