Local celebrities face ‘defamation’ charges against Myanmar junta


About 20 of Myanmar celebrities have been arrested and more than 100 are in hiding after taking part in anti-coup protests against the military junta, according to family members and lawyers.

Film actors, directors, composers, singers, artist, and models are among those who joined demonstrations in February and March, offering their support to the nation’s Civil Disobedience Movement (CDM) after the February 01 coup.

Myanmar’s military claims their takeover was justified, citing unproven allegations of voter fraud during the country’s November 2020 elections.

Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) party won an overwhelming majority in the ballot, but its leadership has since been placed under arrest.

Among 17 celebrities currently in detention are movie stars Pyay Ti Oo, Eindra Kyaw Zin, and May Toe Khingwho were charged Thursday for “statements or rumours likely to cause members of the military to mutiny or fail in their duty,” according to their lawyers.

Model Paing Tagun and film actor Ye Taik were also arrested in April for joining the frontlines of protest marches and sit-ins and charged. They are now being held in private cells at the country’s notorious Insein Prison.

State media on April 02 began publishing a series of photos and videos of artists accused of “inciting civil servants” to join the CDM and “inciting public outrage” on their social media accounts.

According to Thailand-based Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP), in addition to Pyay Ti Oo, Eindra Kyaw Zin, and May Toe Khaing, film stars charged include Paing Tagun (also known as Sit Ko Paing), Ye Taik, Zin Waing, ThureinLwin Lin Thit, Zarganar, Khin Min Khant, Po Po, Myo Thandar Tun, and Athen Cho Swe.

Film director Min Htin KoKo Gyi and singer Saw PhoeKhwar were arrested and are currently held in Insein Prison, while actress Zhan Qi and director Kristina Qi—both US citizens who had assisted the NLD with its election campaign, were arrested at Yangon Mingaladon Airport as they were about to leave for Thailand and placed under house arrest.

The police did not provide arrest warrants at the time of their arrest, according to sources.

Arrest warrants have been also been issued for more than 100 artists, some of whom are in hiding and others who have since fled Myanmar or are taking refuge in remote regions under the control of the country’s ethnic armies.

Singer Novem Htoo, who is in hiding after being charged with defamation, said he would put aside his goals to join the fight against the military, regardless of where he ends up.

“It would be suffocating to live under a dictatorship—there would be very few opportunities,” he said.

“I support a federal system in which one can shape one’s own future through whatever opportunities become available. We must fight for it now … I believe it is better to revolt rather than live under a system where our dreams are crushed and nothing functions.”

A member of AAPP, who spoke to RFA on condition of anonymity out of fear of reprisal, said that most authoritarian regimes would think twice about arresting and punishing their country’s most popular celebrities.

“But now [in Myanmar], not only artists but the whole country is in prison,” the source said.

According to the latest numbers from AAPP, 831 people have been killed in clashes and more than 4,300 people arrested in Myanmar since the Feb. 01 coup. Authorities have issued arrest warrants for more than 1,800 people, the group said. (Source: RFA)