Myanmar/Burma: Musicians are being arrested



Myanmar / Burma:
Musicians are being arrested

Two members of the controversial Burmese hip-hop group Acid have recently been arrested, possibly because of lyrics in some of their songs referring to the lack of press freedom in the country. Artists in Burma have had a hard time since the September 2007 demonstrations. In November 2007 the lead guitarist in Shwe Thansin group, one of Burma’s top bands of the 1990s, was imprisoned.

The Burmese rap singer Zayar Thaw from the hip-hop group Acid was arrested in the country’s capital Rangoon in February 2008, while on 17 April 2008 his colleague Yan Yan Chan was arrested together with his girl friend in a night-time raid on the home of a friend in Monywa Township in Upper Burma.

Acid is a popular hip-hop band on the country’s music scene. It was founded by Yan Yan Chan, Zayar Thaw and two other musicians in 2000. Acid’s repertoire contains thinly veiled attacks on the regime, whose censors have until now been too obtuse to unravel their meaning. But as opposition to a 10 May referendum on a new draft constitution grows, the authorities seem to be lashing out in all directions.

The Burmese authorities presently are reported to hold nearly 2,000 political prisoners.

No news and no charges
Freemuse’s Kristina Funkeson called the Burmese news magazine Irrawaddy which is based in Thailand, covering Burma and Southeast Asia, and interviewed their news editor, Yeni, about the arrests.

He told Freemuse that since the arrest of Zayar Thaw in February, Irrawaddy has been in daily touch with friends of the band members, through internet-chat and e-mail, but so far, there has been no news from Burma concerning the arrests.

The Irrawaddy has also repeatedly been in touch with the Burmese police, but without finding out more about the arrests.

“There are no charges and we don’t even know where the two musicians are. The police have not told us anything.”

“As a music lover and journalist, I fear that this is a part of a governmental crackdown on music that is used as a tool to transfer a political message. Hip-hop is a part of the Burmese underground music scene that reaches a new generation of the Burmese people,” Yeni said.

Referendum on a new constitution
Burma’s government is said to have launched an aggressive censorship and harassment campaign in the run-up to the 10 May 2008 referendum on a new constitution. Along with the Burma Media Association, Reporters Without Borders stated on 24 April 2008 that they are outraged by the methods being used by the military government to prevent the Burmese media from freely covering the views and activities of those who are not in favour of the new constitution.

According to sources in Rangoon, the intelligence services have drawn up a list of 34 journalists to be kept under surveillance in the run-up to the referendum, and at least 60 people were arrested in the northern state of Rakhine at the start of April for wearing T-shirts calling for a ‘No’-vote.

Musician arrested in November
The popular Burmese musician Win Maw was arrested in November 2007, along with two friends, Myat San and Aung Aung, as they sat in a Rangoon teashop.

Two of the three had already served long prison terms. Win Maw, lead guitarist in the Shwe Thansin group, one of Burma’s top bands of the 1990s, was sentenced in 1997 to seven years imprisonment for writing songs in support of Burma’s opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi. He was released in 2003.

Myat San, a member of the Tri-Colour Students Group, which provided security for Suu Kyi in 1989, was sentenced to 20 years for participating in a students demonstration in support of Suu Kyi in December 1991. He was released from Taungoo Prison after more than 15 years – in 2005.

At the time, Amnesty International issued a strong statement condemning the arrests, saying:

“Two months after the violent crackdown on peaceful demonstrators, arbitrary arrests continue unabated as part of the Myanmar [Burma] government’s systematic suppression of freedom of expression and association, contrary to its claims of a return to normalcy.”

Amnesty International maintained at that point that up to 700 people arrested during and after the September demonstrations remained behind bars, while 1,150 political prisoners held prior to the protests are still imprisoned.

Internet blocked or slowed down
Because ot the rapid growth of anti-regime blog sites and online satirical songs the authorities try to block or slow down internet transmission speeds.

In January 2008, the authorities arrested one of Burma’s best known bloggers, Nay Phone Latt, whose Internet sites were a major source of information about the protests and the regime’s brutal crackdown in September 2007. Nay Phone Latt was a youth member of the opposition National League for Democracy, and he owned the Explorer internet café in Rangoon’s Papedan Township, the Heaven internet café in Thingangyun Township and a third in the same suburb. All three internet cafés were closed down.

Yan Yan Chan

Myanmar / Burma

“The unfettered mind is under siege in what is one of the world’s most oppressed nations”
Don North


Video clip on YouTube

Yan Yan Chan: ‘Lite Kye’


Google News – continously updated:

Search: ‘Yan Yan Chan’

The Irrawaddy – 18 April 2008:

‘Popular Burmese Rap Performer Arrested’

The First Post – 18 April 2008:

‘Junta imprisons Yan Yan Chan’

The Irrawaddy – 28 November 2007:

”Popular Musician and Friends Arrested in Rangoon’

Ashin Mettacara’s blog – 18 April 2008:

‘Free Yan Yan Chan’

In-depth report on music censorship in Burma

The book ‘Shoot the Singer’ which was published in 2004 contains a chapter about music censorship Burma, Chapter 6: ‘Music under siege’.

Freemuse offers you to read the full chapter by Aung Zaw – 23 pages in pdf-format.

Read the chapter

How censorship is carried out in Burma

Excerpt from ‘Risky jokes about Burma’s dictators’ – by Don North

“In Burma, or Myanmar as the generals insist it be called, the government has created artist associations for writers, journalists and any form of entertainer, even athletes. In order to create anything new, permission must be obtained from the government. But before getting approval, the artist’s association memberships are reviewed.
Since 1962, the government’s permission must be obtained to hire a Pwe troupe (troupe of political satirists, musicians, puppeteers and dancers) for holidays, birthdays, weddings and funerals. To gain permission a troupe must pay a fee, and submit a list of all performers.

Permission also must be obtained from the police. Military intelligence must approve the content, too.
With such draconian regulations and a consensus of all parties required, permission is reported to be rarely granted. The art, history and culture of Burma have suffered under the blacklist of the Pwe. The unfettered mind is under siege in what is one of the world’s most oppressed nations.”

Order the book


Video clip on

‘Bateman: Burma’s dangerous hip-hop scene’
About G-Tone, Zayar Thaw and Yan Yan Chan

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