Myanmar military officials executed pro-democracy advocates Phyo Zeya Thaw, Ko Jimmy, Hla Myo Aung and Aung Thura Zaw. The military sentenced the men, accused of terrorism, to death in January. Thaw and Jimmy appealed their sentences but lost in June. United Nations Special Rapporteur Tom Andrews said his heart goes out to their families. “These depraved acts must be a turning point for the international community,” he continued. Thaw’s mother spoke to the BBC’s Burmese Service and told reporters she talked to her son Friday, and he seemed happy.
That’s why I didn’t think they would kill him. I didn’t believe it.”
Neither Thaw’s wife, nor Jimmy’s family, received notice about the specifics of their loved one’s executions. On top of this, the families don’t have access to the bodies either. Myanmar military, or junta, seized power in February 2021, causing international criticism and widespread protest.
Phyo Zeya Thaw Inspired Social Change
Before his direct involvement in politics, Phyo Zeya Thaw, or Zayar Thaw, was a popular voice in Myanmar’s hip-hop scene. He, along with several others, founded Burma’s first hip-hop group Acid in the 2000s. He used his visibility to further his career in activism. As a result, Thaw spent six years behind bars for forming an illegal organization, Generation Wave. The group used non-violent methods to educate Burmese youth. In 2019, Thaw played a benefit concert in Australia for Myanmar’s “diaspora.” One of the event’s organizers, Sophia Sarkis, heard of the death sentence he received and was appalled. One of the offenses Thaw and co. are accused of includes financing terrorism and plotting to commit acts of terrorism involving explosives. Sarkis said this was an intimidation tactic and that Thaw wouldn’t possess those kinds of weapons. She called for protest, but despite her best efforts, the execution continued.
Ko Jimmy’s Legacy
Outspoken writer Ko Jimmy, birth name Kyaw Min Yu, has a long history of taking political risks. He spent 15 years in prison for participating in the Burma Riots of 1988. His wife, Nilar Thein, did 10 years. He was arrested again in 2008 and then released in 2012 alongside Thein, after protesting the rising costs of fuel during the Saffron Revolution. After the news of his death hit, Khin Zaw Win Director of the Tampaida Institute said, “He [Kyaw Min Yu] fought for the country… I’m sorry for the loss of our comrade. The fascists do things the fascist way. We will continue our fight for democracy.”
Myanmar’s military seized power from the pro-democracy leader, and friend of Phyo Zeya Thaw, Aung San Suu Kyi. As of June 2022, she remains in custody. General Min Aung Hlaing leads the junta. According to Amnesty International, there are now 100 detainees set to be executed. The last execution happened in the late 1980s. Acting Director for Asia’s Human Rights Watch Elaine Pearson said the executions were an act of “utter cruelty.” Phyo Zeya Thaw leaves behind fiancé Thazin Nyunt Aung, and Kyaw leaves behind a wife—Nilar Thein—and daughter Nay Kyi Min Yu.