When Thazin Nyunt Aung first heard that the Myanmar army had executed her husband, “her feelings cannot be expressed in words.”
But when reality settled, so did the solid resolve.
“Now I have to do more to complete this revolution successfully,” she told Al Jazeera.
Her husband, 41-year-old Phyo Zeyar Thaw, was arrested in November 2021. The last conversation she had with him before they separated was several times before.
“It was an understanding between us,” she said. “If something happens to one of us, those who leave us must fight to the end.”
In 2012, then-rapper Phyo Zeyar Thaw exchanged his microphone for a parliamentary gown as by-elections swept Aung San Suu Kyi and other members of the National League for Democracy into office as part of Myanmar’s transition to democracy. This month, he was executed along with three other political prisoners, in the country’s first use of the death penalty in decades.
The four men, who also included prominent activist Kyaw Min Yu, also known as Ko Jimi, were accused of organizing or participating in armed resistance to the army, which seized power in February 2021 as a coup after the NLD returned to power in a landslide. . .
Even when he was taking a break from music to work in House – Pyithu Hluttaw – Phyo Zeyar Thaw never stopped listening to rappers like Eminem and Snoop Dogg. He decided not to seek re-election and return to his music career in 2020, believing that the country is on the right track.
Thasin Nyunt Aung said that one of her fondest memories with her husband was the night of November 8, 2020, when the election results came out.
“Zyar Tho did not participate in that election, but he still fights for the NLD,” she explained. “During the campaign, I went with Visit Tho and met many people who believed in his political views, loved and trusted him.”
A member of activist group Rap Against Junta said the last time he saw Phyo Zeyar Thaw was the night before the coup when they went out to eat grilled pork ribs together in Yangon. Despite his decision not to run for re-election, he did not shirk his time in politics.
“Being an activist, he told me, you can only push for the cause. Being a politician, you can literally make change happen.
He says that although Phyo Zeyar Thaw is famous, he has always been down to earth and encouraged youngsters in the hip-hop scene. “He knew it was the new generation who did it [are] It will shape the future of the country.”
Fears of more to come
The executions raised fears that other political prisoners were in imminent danger.
More than 70 people Execution of the death sentence (Others were sentenced to abstentions) for opposing the coup, including nine women, according to the Association to Aid Political Prisoners (AAPP), which tracks the army’s crackdown. The association says more than 2,100 civilians have been killed by the military since the coup, including dozens who died in military custody.
The association’s director, Bo Kyi, said it was “more dangerous” to be a political prisoner now than any other anti-military “uprising” in Myanmar’s history. “The penal institution is used as a weapon to oppress people,” he said.
When asked if the military was likely to use the death penalty again, he said it was “difficult to predict any rational process” from the military government. But he says it’s clear that “the more desperation they have, the more brutal they become.”
American Burmese journalist Nathan Maung, who spent three months in prison for writing about the coup, says he fears more than 100 other people will be executed.
“I am deeply concerned for my colleagues and friends in prison,” he said, saying the executions would send a chill of fear not only in prisons but across the country.
Since the killings, unverified rumors have been circulating insanely on social media. One claims that three more prisoners have already been secretly executed, while another claims that 41 prisoners will be executed imminently. When prominent protest leader Wai Mu Ning, who was accused of a murder with little evidence, was allowed to meet his mother this week, many feared it was for a last farewell.
Meanwhile, most of the ousted NLD’s top leadership – including beloved state counselor Aung San Suu Kyi, President Win Myint, and Mandalay Prime Minister Zaw Myint Maung – remain in military custody.
Under the so-called state board of generals, says political analyst Khin Zhao Win, “everything is possible.” “In the past year, there have been concerns for Aung San Suu Kyi’s safety and even her life,” he said.
He says the executions may represent desperation and the army’s desire to “revenge for its heavy losses in battle”.
Since the coup, military resistance has exploded across Myanmar, with newly formed anti-coup armed groups collaborating with more established ethnic armed groups that have fought for political independence for decades. Their success on the battlefield surprised analysts and perhaps the army itself, which was unable to assert its administrative control over vast swaths of the country.
“It’s like saying – ‘If you continue the attacks, we will kill the prisoners we took.'” Khin Zhao Wen said a prisoner-of-war life has no value in the military scheme of things, adding that from the military’s point of view, people under sentence of death are “the most dangerous.”
Calls for international action
International condemnation was swift and severe.
As president of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), Cambodia wrote an unusually strong letter condemning the timing of the executions – just a week before the ASEAN summit – calling them “extremely reprehensible” and showing a “complete lack of will” to resolve them. the crisis.
The 15-nation United Nations Security Council, which includes the largest arms suppliers to the military China and Russia, also unanimously condemned the move, as did the Group of Seven.
Bo Ki says the international community must take action to prevent further violence.
“Our neighbors have a duty to stop these atrocities in Burma,” he said.
The executions came just days after the Cambodian foreign minister proposed raising the level of the army’s representation in the regional bloc.
Since October 2021, military commander Min Aung Hlaing and his foreign minister have been banned from attending high-level ASEAN summit meetings, but lower-level ministers were allowed to continue participating in the meetings. Now Malaysia, which has taken the lead in resisting the regime, has proposed excluding all army-appointed ministers. It also condemned the killings as a “crime against humanity”.
But Nathan Monge says the international community is so far talking and taking no action.
I think the Myanmar army has realized that the international community will do nothing against them. “I will blame the international community, including ASEAN and Burma’s immediate neighbors China, India and Thailand,” he said.
While Cambodia has been pressing for negotiations between the military and its opponents, Khin Zaw Win says the executions made that “impossible”.
“Anyone who suggests that is crazy,” he said.
Rather than back down, the military defended the executions, saying the men “deserve a lot of death sentences.” civilian clothes mob They gathered to throw stones at the homes of the parents of the executed activists. The military also refused to return bodies or tell families exactly when they were killed, which hindered Buddhist religious ceremonies for the dead.
“This shows the extreme cruelty of their nature and is a blatant violation of the human rights of families as well,” Thazin Nyunt Aung said, adding that it may be a tactic to make other opponents of the military government more fearful.
It’s really not a judicial execution, it’s just murder. The army wants everyone who fights against them to die, and they only want power and wealth in their own hands.”