Govt Won’t Drop Charges Against Three Artists Over COVID-19 Mural

Three painters at Myitkyina court, Myitkyina, the capital of Kachin State, Burma.

The deputy director of Kachin State’s religious affairs department is refusing to drop the legal case against three painters charged with violating Article 295 of Burma’s penal code, alleging the artists insulted religion with their COVID-19 awareness mural in Myitkyina.

The painters—Zayyar Nawng, Cecilia Ja Seng, and Naw Tun Aung—were arrested on April 3 released from jail on US$7,000 bail each by a Myitkyina court on April 30. The case will commence on May 11.

“In court, the judge asked the plaintiff whether they would drop the case. The plaintiff replied that he could not make the decision alone to drop this case,” defense lawyer Doi But told KNG, referring to deputy director Tun Myint Aung.

Hearings will be held weekly. The first will involve testimony from two of the prosecution’s witnesses on May 11, and two more on May 18, and another two on May 25.

The work in question is a mural under the theme “stay home, save lives,” on a wall of the Myitkyina railway station. The painting featured a grim reaper representing the COVID-19 pandemic. It was wearing robes which the plaintiff alleges are similar to those worn by Buddhist monks, leading to the charges of “insulting religion.” The artists deny that the work had any religious connotation and is purely a piece meant to raise awareness of the dangers of the coronavirus.

Organizations including Human Rights Watch and the Kachin State-based Legal Aid Network have called for the case to be dismissed.

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