YANGON — A group of Pathein students has been charged with defamation over a play containing jokes about military wives having affairs while their husbands are away fighting.
Nine students were in a court near the Ayeyarwady Region capital on Wednesday, where they were told they would face trial over the performance that was staged during a workshop promoting peace.
A local army lieutenant-colonel lodged the case because the play “could disgrace and destroy the image of the Tatmadaw” and their families, police officer Zaw Min Tun said.
Video footage of the January 9 performance has gone viral.
In one scene, an army wife says she supports war because “my husband has been away fighting for a long time… so I can have affairs freely as I like”.
The trial starts in a fortnight, with the case adding to concerns about freedom of speech in Myanmar since a civilian government, led by Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, came to power.
On Sunday, lawyers and journalists joined a Yangon protest demanding the government overturn the controversial section 66(d) of the Telecommunications Law, which criminalises online defamation. .
Days earlier UN rights envoy Yanghee Lee criticised the authorities for using the defamation law against people “merely for speaking their minds”.
Only seven prosecutions were brought under the controversial law in over two years under the previous government. Since Suu Kyi’s party took over in March last year there have been over 40.
Most recently, a local actress tried to use it against transgender beauty queen Myo Ko Ko San over insults posted on a celebrity gossip page.
“Democratic governments don’t imprison those who criticise or somehow ‘insult’ government officials or the military,” said Human Rights Watch Asia director Brad Adams.