A group of young painters who created a work of art on the wall of a railway station in the Kachin State capital of Myitkyina is now facing charges for insulting Buddhism, which they deny was their intention.
The picture in question was of a demon, or “messenger of death,” symbolizing the current COVID-19 pandemic.
Tun Aung, the deputy director of Kachin State’s religious affairs department, is prosecuting the painters for violating Article 295(a) of Burma’s penal code, a colonial-era law that punishes “deliberate and malicious” acts that are committed with the intention of “outrag[ing] religious feelings.”
The charges stem from criticism on social media that the demon in the artwork was dressed in red, leading some people to suggest there were similarities to the robes of a Buddhist monk.
“It’s just our campaign. We haven’t made any profit by painting this work. We took two days to finish it. We don’t have any intention of insulting religion. I am also a Buddhist,” painter Zayyar Naung told KNG. “I don’t want to insult any religion. Our objective is to let people know about COVID-19, for awareness and cooperation around [preventing] the virus. We don’t have any other objective.”
Cecilia Ja Seng, another member of the painters’ group but who did not contribute to this particular work, said that the painting was not a religious piece, and was intended to simply make people aware of the dangers of the coronavirus outbreak.
“If you look at the painting, the dress of the death demon is not connected with any religion. I think people should see the painting through the artist’s mind. People should not view it one-sidedly. That’s very dangerous,” she told KNG. “To me, the demon in red doesn’t look like a Buddhist monk. It’s just a demon of death.”
Zayyar Naung, Cecilia Ja Seng and another painter, Naw Htoo Aung, are being prosecuted in a Myitkyina court.
“I used the color red on the demon to create more fear in people’s minds, to make people afraid of COVID-19. Our message is that people need to protect themselves from COVID-19,” Zayyar Naung said.