Myanmar army sues students over play which joked about military wives having affairs

A group of Myanmar students has been charged with defamation after staging a play containing jokes about military wives having affairs while their husbands are away.
A group of Myanmar students has been charged with defamation after staging a play containing jokes about military wives having affairs while their husbands are away. PHOTO: AFP

YANGON (AFP) - A group of Myanmar 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 southern city of Pathein on Wednesday (Jan 25), 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.

Tatmadaw is another name for Myanmar's army.

Video footage of the Jan 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 Aung San Suu Kyi, came to power.

On Sunday, lawyers and journalists joined a Yangon protest demanding the government overturn a controversial online defamation law known as section 66(d).

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 a transgender beauty queen 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.