Phyo Zeya Thaw, Burmese pro-democracy rapper, 41, executed

U Phyo Zeya Thaw, a Burmese hip-hop pioneer whose democratic lyrics made a career in parliament and became a resistance leader after the military coup in Myanmar last year. was completed on Saturday in Yangon, Myanmar, the country’s military junta. He was 41 years old.

His execution and that of three other political prisoners were announced in the junta-controlled media on Monday. His mother, Do Khin Win Mei, confirmed his death.

The four men were convicted on terrorism charges in trials that were widely condemned as bogus. The four executions, including that of veteran Democrat Wu Kyaw Ming Yu, popularly known as Ko Jimmy, were the first executions in Myanmar in decades.

mr. Phio Zeya Tou, already well known as a democratic activist, led an underground resistance cell in Yangon, Myanmar’s commercial capital. Loosely organized into the People’s Defense Forces, many such civilian militias are led by ousted lawmakers, pro-democracy activists, and even the occasional doctor or lawyer.

After mr. Phyo Zeya Thaw was arrested on terrorism charges last November. Authorities released a photograph of him surrounded by weapons they said he planned to use to kill military personnel.

Its defenders dispute the photo’s authenticity. mr. Phyo Zeya Thaw’s face in the photo was visibly bruised and swollen.

“I laughed when I saw the weapon in the photo,” said Ma Tazin Nyunt Aung, Mr. Fio Zei Tou’s fiancee, who said she was with him when he was arrested. “The War Council is an organization that is never trusted because it never tells the truth.”

mr. Fyo Zeya Tou, commonly known as Zayar Tou (pronounced zai-yar tau), was a career changer.

Near the end of the first round of the military’s heavy-handed rule, in the early 2000s, he led one of Myanmar’s first hip-hop groups and co-founded Generation Wave, a collective of rappers, activists and other young people who used music as a medium or dissident.

“With hip-hop, we can express ourselves without fear,” Phyo Zeya Thaw said in a 2011 interview, shortly after he was released from his first term in prison. “Music can make us brave.”

As the ruling generals began to open up the country and allow members of the long-oppressed National League for Democracy to run for parliament in the 2012 by-election, Mr. Phyo Zeya Thaw reinvented himself as a politician, swapping out his baggy hip-hop outfits for a modest political-class shirt and sarong. . His lopsided baseball cap gave way to a neat haircut worthy of a housekeeping manager.

He won a seat in parliament from the NLD, the party of democracy leader Do Aung San Suu Kyi.

He was a rare young face in a political party whose stalwarts had grown old fighting the military generals who had ruled Myanmar for almost five decades, a period of international isolation and destruction.

“I was just an activist who rebelled against injustice,” he said. Phyo Zeya Thaw said shortly after his election victory. “When I was in prison, I seriously thought about what I want. I wanted to end injustice, so I joined the NLD.”

He became close to Mrs. Aung San Suu Kyi travels abroad with her and calms down her often cranky dog.

“He is almost like a son to her,” said a now imprisoned NLD elder of Mr. U Win Htein. Phyo Zeya Thaw in 2019. “He is very obedient. He believes in her and she believes in him.”

Mrs. Aung San Suu Kyi, who became the de facto leader of Myanmar after elections in 2015 and 2020, also incarcerated and was convicted of crimes that Western governments and human rights groups consider fabricated.

Phyo Zeya Thaw was born on March 26, 1981 in Yangon. His father was the rector of a dental school, and his mother was a dentist. In the ninth grade, he told his parents that he wanted to be an artist. They encouraged him to engage in more traditional studies.

A year later, he told his mother, Mr. Khin Win May, that he wanted to become a DJ.

“I asked him to explain what a DJ is,” she said. He is obliged.

She survives him with his father U Mya Tou; his sister Do Pyu Pa Pa Tou; and his fiancee, Mr. Tazin Nyunt Aung.

Myanmar was then one of the most closed countries on earth, taking shape under the inept rule of generals. The military secret police terrorized the population. Listening to foreign radio broadcasts or holding foreign currency can result in a lengthy prison sentence.

Completing his university studies in English, Mr. Phyo Zeya Thaw opened a recording studio and began forming the first major hip-hop group in Myanmar. The band’s name was Acid, and his musical name was Nitric Acid.

In 2007, amid rising fuel prices and another economic crisis, Buddhist monks led mass protests in Yangon and other cities, knocking over their begging bowls to show their frustration with the military junta. Young protesters syncopated their riot with local hip hop.

As with previous mass demonstrations, the military eventually responded with gunfire. mr. Phyo Zeya Thaw then co-founded Generation Wave, a secret group of anti-government hip-hoppers and youth activists.

He was arrested in 2008 and found guilty of violating law and order and illegally possessing the equivalent of about US$20 in foreign currency.

After his release from prison in 2011, he still performed in concert occasionally, but focused on promoting the National League for Democracy.

When the military agreed to share power with the civilian authorities, he was elected to parliament in 2012 and re-elected in 2015, this time to represent the district in Naypyidaw, the capital built by the generals earlier this century to replace Yangon. The side connected with the military was shocked by the defeat at home.

mr. Phyo Zeya Thaw was the lady’s assistant. Aung San Suu Kyi is helping prepare information materials on legislation and peace negotiations with ethnic minority rebels. She remained loyal even as she earned international condemnation for her support of the armed forces as they unleashed a campaign of ethnic cleansing against Rohingya Muslims.

During the parliamentary season in Naypyidaw, Mr. Fio Zeya Thaw lived in an austere concrete legislators’ dormitory, his room was little more than a hard bed with a mosquito net and a desk littered with legislative papers. There has been little evidence of his life as one of Myanmar’s most famous hip hop artists.

“He liked to sing more than to engage in politics,” said Ms. Tazin Nyunt Aung, his fiancee. “But he did his duty to the end.”

mr. Phyo Zeya Thaw declined to run for re-election in 2020, hoping to return to rap. The National League for Democracy won an even bigger victory that year. The military party was suppressed.

The putsch took place less than three months later, and the country’s top leaders were quickly captured and imprisoned.

As mass protests against the new junta spilled onto the streets, Phyo Zeya Thaw joined the rallies. But when soldiers killed unarmed demonstrators with single shots to the head, even small children, he and others went underground.

His activities in the resistance are not publicly known. He was arrested in November when 300 soldiers broke into a Yangon apartment complex where he was hiding.

In January, a junta court sentenced G. Phyo Zeya Thaw and three other activists to death.

“These death sentences, handed down by an illegal court or an illegitimate junta, are a vile attempt to instill fear in the people of Myanmar,” the UN said in a statement. statement.

mr. Phyo Zeya Thaw was hanged before dawn Saturday along with three other democracy activists.

“I will always be proud of my son because he gave his life for the country,” she said. Khin Win Mei said. “He is a martyr who tried to bring democracy to Myanmar.”