The Burmese military has filed a lawsuit against nine high school students in Bassein who staged a play with an anti-war theme earlier this month.
Southwest Regional Military Command’s Lt-Gen Aung Myo Naing initiated litigation at the township court on 17 January, alleging that the schoolchildren had defamed the country’s military.
The nine students from Pyinnya Parami Charity School put on the performance during a workshop at a local civic group meeting in Bassein, officially known as Pathein, the capital of Irrawaddy Division, on 9 January. The workshop had been convened by local civic groups to discuss the topic of “Peace in Myanmar”.
Aung Khant Zaw, one of the students who took part in the play, said the nine were informed by the local police chief on 18 January that the regional military base had filed a lawsuit, accusing them of “using language deemed defamatory to servicemen and their families.”
Speaking to DVB, he said, “We were informed by the township police chief that the military is suing us under Penal Code Article 500 – for allegedly using language defamatory to the servicemen and women of the armed forces and their families.”
Aung Khant Zaw said they were summoned to the township police station for brief questioning that same evening, at which time they denied the accusation, explaining that while the play carried an anti-war message, it was in no way meant to be anti-military.
“The message we tried to convey was that we were against war, but we did not intend to insult or question the integrity of the Tatmadaw [Burmese armed forces],” he said.
“We all dream of peace. We do not support conflict, and we believe it hinders the peace process.”
Five of the students are scheduled to sit matriculation exams on 8 March.
“I need to prioritise my studies at this time, but now I also have a court hearing to attend,” said soon-to-be school-leaver Min Khant Zaw.
Bassein Police Superintendent Zaw Min Tun said local police are investigating the case, but to date no charges have been pressed against the defendants.