Myanmar artists face blasphemy charges for Covid-19 mural
Three artists from conflict-torn Kachin state in northern Myanmar have been charged with insulting Buddhism over a mural to raise awareness of Covid-19. They were arrested after Buddhist hardliners complained that the mural, portraying a Grim Reaper figure spreading the coronavirus, looked like a Buddhist monk.
On April 3, the deputy director of Kachin’s Religious Office formally filed a charge under article 295A of the penal code, which criminalizes speech that insults religion and is punishable by up to two years in prison. The mural was painted on a wall in Myitkyina, the capital of Kachin state, and the artists posted a photo of their mural on social media.
But they painted over the mural after they were bombarded with online hate speech. Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch, said Myanmar’s authorities had caved in to outrageous demands by Buddhist ultranationalists to prosecute three street artists for expressing their views.
One of the artists, Zayar Hnaung, said he is a Buddhist and had no intention of insulting Buddhism.“The mural was meant to raise awareness among the public about the coronavirus outbreak.”
Fighting has plagued the mountainous Kachin region since Myanmar gained its independence from Britain in 1948. Most of Kachin’s 1.7 million ethnic Kachins are Christians, including 116,000 Catholics.