Myanmar/Burma: Hip-hop star given amnesty after three years in prison

19 May 2011


Zayar Thaw, (also spelled: Zeya, Zeyar or Zay Yar) a prominent hip hop artist and member of the outlawed Generation Wave youth activist group, has been released after almost three years in prison. He is one of around 47 political prisoners who was given amnesty.

The 31-year-old musician arrived back at his home in Rangoon on 17 May 2011, reported Democratic Voice of Burma.

All current prisoners’ sentences were reduced by one year. 47 political prisoners were released among several thousands of criminals who enjoyed the president’s “clemency.”

Underground movement
Zayar Thaw rose to fame with Acid, one of Burma’s first hip hop groups whose veiled anti-government lyrics earned them an enthusiastic following. The group’s first album, ‘Beginning’, also hailed as Burma’s first home-produced hip hop offering, spent several weeks at the top of the charts.

Following the short-lived uprising and so-called Saffron Revolution of September 2007, he co-founded Generation Wave, known for their guerrilla-style methods of distributing subversive material in coffee shops around Rangoon. Assisted by members in exile the underground movement seeks to use music to raise the political awareness of young people.

15 band members still in prison
On 20 November 2008, Zayar Thaw was charged under section 6/88 of the Unlawful Association Act and section 24/1 of the Foreign Currency Act for violating the foreign exchange act. He was sentenced to six years in prison. Later, his sentenced was commuted to four years, and he was due to be released within a few months when an amnesty declared by President Thein Sein shortened his time behind bars even further.

His fellow Acid band mate Yan Yan Chan was also arrested and jailed. 15 members of Generation Wave remain behind bars.

“I would like to tell them, as well as their families and all the parents and siblings of all prisoners of conscience that I very much sympathise them and I will work personally to ensure their freedom, just like mine,” he told Democratic Voice of Burma.

Scarce healthcare
Zayar Thaw didn’t want to talk about the three years he spent in Kawthaung prison in southernmost Burma. He was quoted as saying:

“In terms of food and living conditions, I don’t want to say whether they were good or bad because there are regulations and restrictions according to prison standards.”

However he did mention that healthcare was scarce, and the medical staff incompetent.

Zayar Thaw was wary of putting too much emphasis on his release. The amnesty reduced all prison terms by one year, and commuted death sentences to life imprisonment. But more than 2,200 political prisoners remain in detention, some serving sentences of more than 100 years. Since 1988, there have been five official amnesty announcements, including the most recent.





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Zayar Thaw

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Click to listen to audio interview with Generation Wave
Audio interview with members of Generation Wave



Democratic Voice of Burma – 18 May 2011:

‘Freed hip-hop star says Burma ‘regressing’ ‘

The Irrawaddy News Magazine – 19 May 2011:

‘Burma’s Amnesty Program Receives Widespread Criticism’


Mizzima – 26 May 2011:

‘Rapping on the frustrations of life in Burma’

The Irrawaddy – 25 May 2011:

‘Interview: “Music is in My Blood”‘


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