Three Painters Promoting COVID-19 Awareness Released on Bail, Charges Remain

Three painters were released from jail on bail by a Myitkyina court on Thursday, but continue to face charges of “insulting religion” for their public mural promoting awareness of the COVID-19 pandemic in the Kachin State capital.

The young artists—Cecilia Ja Seng, Naw Tun Aung, and Zayyar Nawng—are being charged with violating Article 295(a) of Burma’s Penal Code by Tun Myint Aung, the deputy director of Kachin State’s religious affairs department.

“This case has not been withdrawn,” lawyer Doi Bu told KNG, but said that since the artists were eligible for bail, she had applied for it. “Ja Seng is a young girl. She is taking care of her elderly father and mother. Zayyar Nawng is suffering from stomach pains and taking medicine for it. Naw Tun Aung has been suffering from asthma since he was young and has been hospitalized [in the past],” she explained as to why they appealed for bail.

The prosecutor did not object to the request for bail, the lawyer added, but it was set at 10 million kyat for each defendant, or more than US$7,000.

On April 3, the painters were arrested for creating a mural on the wall of a railway station in Myitkyina intending to raise awareness of the COVID-19 pandemic. It featured a grim reaper coming after members of the public while carrying the virus, with the message “stay at home, save lives.” The artwork was criticized by people online as insulting Buddhism—they said that the reaper’s robe was too similar to those worn by monks.

According to Doi Bu, the lawyers for both the plaintiff and the defendants will meet to discuss the case on May 5. After that, the next round of court hearings will be scheduled.

“The court will decide the case in accordance with the law,” Tun Myint Aung, who brought the charges against the painters, told KNG.

If they are found guilty, the painters could be sentenced to up to two years in prison and/or a fine.

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