Wife of Activist on Death Row Urges Intl’ Community to Save Her Husband

By The Irrawaddy 10 June 2022

The wife of leading activist Ko Phyo Zeya Thaw, who is on death row awaiting execution by the Myanmar junta, asked the international community not to stand by and let the regime kill her husband.

“I am very worried about him. I would like to urge the international community not to stand by and watch this happen,” said Ma Thazin Nyunt Aung while talking about her fears for her husband.

She spoke out against the military regime’s decision to approve the death sentence given to the hip-hop star turned National League for Democracy (NLD) MP, describing the decision as “unjust”.

Last Friday, the junta announced that it will proceed with the executions of four men: Ko Phyo Zeya Thaw, veteran democracy activist Ko Jimmy and two other anti-coup opponents who were given death sentences by junta courts earlier this year.

Ma Thazin Nyunt Aung and Ko Phyo Zeya Thaw.

Regime spokesperson Major General Zaw Min Tun said that the appeal process against the death sentences has been completed and rejected.

However, Ma Thazin Nyunt Aung told The Irrawaddy that Ko Phyo Zeya Thaw hadn’t been allowed to mount a defense against the charges in the junta court, and that no appeal had been lodged by his lawyers as they have not been allowed to meet with him since his arrest in November last year.

“This is not fair. He must be allowed to see his family and his lawyer. But there was nothing like that nor any chance to defend him,” Ma Thazin Nyunt Aung told The Irrawaddy.

Ko Jimmy’s wife Ma Nilar Thein, herself a prominent democracy activist, told Radio Free Asia (RFA) on Thursday that from the day of his arrest in October last year, Ko Jimmy’s family have received no information about his trial and that no appeal was filed by their lawyers, raising further doubts about the junta spokesperson’s claim.

Ko Phyo Zeya Thaw was arrested during a raid in Yangon’s Dagon Seikkan Township, then and now under martial law, on November 18, 2021. He was given the death sentence on terrorism charges by a military tribunal in January for masterminding armed resistance operations in Yangon. Ko Jimmy, a long-time activist who participated in the 1988 pro-democracy uprising, received the same sentence.

A number of countries and global organizations have joined local groups in condemning the junta’s decision to approve and proceed with the executions.

Despite that, the military regime has vowed to carry out the executions saying that there will be no mercy.

Ko Jimmy, veteran democracy activist and leading member of the 88 Generation Students Group (left), and former NLD lawmaker Ko Phyo Zeya Thaw (right).

Ko Phyo Zeya Thaw served as an NLD MP from 2012 to 2020. Prior to that, he made his name as a member of Acid, Myanmar’s first hip-hop band. Acid emerged in 2000, when the young Myanmar audience was growing bored of the country’s mainstream rock music and looking for something new. Their debut release, Beginning, was the first rap album by local musicians and propelled the band to national stardom, as well as paving the way for other Myanmar hip-hop artists

After last year’s coup and the junta’s subsequent crackdowns on peaceful anti-regime protesters, Ko Phyo Zeya Thaw went into hiding but appears to have been active in the resistance movement against the regime.

His wife said Ko Phyo Zeya Thaw has always said that the coup should not have happened and that people should be encouraged to resist the military takeover by every means possible.

“He always does what he thinks is right. Nothing can stop him from his pro-democracy activism. People like him and Ko Jimmy aren’t afraid of its [the junta’s] cruelty,” said Ma Thazin Nyunt Aung.

Held dear by many Myanmar people, especially the young, Ko Phyo Zeya Thaw’s execution and that of the other activists on death row will likely escalate the resistance to the junta.

Ma Nilar Thein, Ko Jimmy’s wife, told RFA that the junta will have to take responsibility for its blatant violations of human rights.

A total of 114 people have been sentenced to death since the coup, including students and anti-junta activists, two of them minors.

Ko Phyo Zeya Thaw and Ko Jimmy are among the first of the 114 on death row to have their death sentences approved by the junta, despite being given unfair trials in which they could not defend themselves.