Zayar Thaw

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Zayar Thaw
Zeya Thaw.jpg
Member of the Burmese House of Representatives
for Zabuthiri Township
Assumed office
1 February 2016
Preceded by Sanda Min
Member of the Burmese House of Representatives
for Pobbathiri Township
In office
2 May 2012 – 29 January 2016
Preceded by Tin Aung Myint Oo
Succeeded by Tun Thit
Personal details
Born Kyaw Kyaw (ကျော်ကျော်)
(1981-03-26) 26 March 1981 (age 35)
Rangoon, Burma
Nationality Burmese
Political party National League for Democracy
Alma mater BEHS No. 6 Botahtaung
Dagon University
Occupation Musician
Religion Theravada Buddhism

Zayar Thaw (Burmese: ဇေယျာသော် [zèjà θɔ̀] and also spelt Zeyar Thaw or Zeya Thaw); born Kyaw Kyaw (ကျော်ကျော် [tɕɔ̀ tɕɔ̀]; born 26 March 1981) is a Burmese politician and hip-hop artist who was detained for the perceived anti-government messages of his lyrics. Amnesty International named him a prisoner of conscience.[1] He is a member of Pyithu Hluttaw, the Lower House of the Burmese parliament. He, along with opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, were elected to the lower house on 1 April 2012.

Hip hop career[edit]

In 2000, Zayar Thaw's band Acid released Burma's first hip-hop album. Despite predictions of failure by many in the Burmese music industry, the album, Beginning, remained in the number one position of the Burmese charts for more than two months.[2] A Democratic Voice of Burma reporter described his music as blending a "combative, angry style with indigenous poeticism".[3] The band's repertoire has been said to contain many "thinly veiled attacks on the regime".[4] The Independent stated that while the band "focused on the mundane, their lyrics inevitably touched on the hardships of life in Burma, drawing them into dangerous territory."[5]

Zayar Thaw also became known early on for his social activism. At one concert, he teamed with poets Saw Wai and Aung Way to raise money for a charity for HIV-positive orphans founded by the comedian Zarganar. Along with fellow rapper Nge Nge, Zayar Thaw also visited Zarganar's orphanages to help teach English to the children.[2]

Generation Wave activism and arrest[edit]

Zayar Thaw is one of four founding members of Generation Wave, a youth movement opposed to the State Peace and Development Council, Burma's military rulers.[2] The group was founded on 9 October 2007, following the anti-government protests popularly known as the Saffron Revolution, and used graffiti and pamphlets to spread pro-democracy messages.[2] Zayar Thaw reportedly developed one of the group's more widespread campaigns, bumper stickers reading "Change New Government" to apply to cars carrying "CNG" stickers (for "compressed natural gas").[2] The group also circulated anti-government films, including Rambo,[6] in which the titular character battles Tatmadaw (Burmese military) soldiers in Karen State.[7] The film had been banned by the government for portraying the SPDC and its soldiers in a negative light.[8]

As of February 2010, about thirty members of the group had been imprisoned,[9] including Zayar Thaw, who was arrested at a Yangon restaurant with friends on 12 March 2008.[6] In April, Zayar Thaw's Acid co-founder Yan Yan Chan was also arrested.[10]

Trial and imprisonment[edit]

Zayar Thaw was allegedly beaten during his interrogation.[11] On 20 November 2008, he was sentenced to five years' imprisonment for breaking State Law and Order Restoration Council Law No. 6/88,[6] "illegal organizing under the Unlawful Association Act".[12] Amnesty International described this statute as "a vaguely worded law whose sweeping provisions can be interpreted as making it illegal to set up any kind of organization".[11] He was given an additional year's imprisonment for possession of foreign currency, as he had been carrying approximately $20 USD in Thai baht, Singapore dollars, and Malaysian ringgit at the time of his arrest.[11]

Shwe Nya War Sayadaw Zarganar Zayar Thaw Nay Win Maung Phyu Phyu Thin Hillary Clinton Maung Wuntha
In December 2011, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton met with Zayar Thaw, along with other civil society representatives. (Clicking on a person's face will take you to an article about the person.)

Before his sentencing, Zayar Thaw told reporters, "I feel sad, but not because of my imprisonment... I feel sad for the future of our country and people when I think about these facts. These words come from my heart. I wish to say to people, 'Have the courage to reject the things you don’t like, and even if you don’t dare to openly support the right thing, don’t support the wrong thing.' "[6] His sentence was condemned by Amnesty International, who named him a prisoner of conscience and called for his immediate release.[1]

Release and Political Career[edit]

He served his sentence at Kawthaung prison and was released on 17 May 2011.[6][13] In August 2011, Zayar Thaw was banned by the Mingala Taungnyunt Township Police Station from performing at a stage show on Kandawgyi Lake's Hmyawzin Island.[14]

He is an elected member of House of Representatives, representing the National League for Democracy.[15]


  1. ^ a b "Myanmar, Unlock the Prison Doors!" (PDF). Amnesty International. Retrieved 17 April 2011. 
  2. ^ a b c d e Alex Elgee (26 March 2010). "Another Birthday behind Bars". The Irrawaddy. Retrieved 7 May 2011. 
  3. ^ Joseph Allchin (30 December 2009). "Fresh blood for a new decade". Democratic Voice of Burma. Retrieved 8 May 2011. 
  4. ^ "Junta imprisons Yan Yan Chan". 18 April 2008. Retrieved 8 May 2011. 
  5. ^ "Burma jails comedian for 45 years". The Independent. 22 November 2008. Retrieved 12 May 2011. 
  6. ^ a b c d e "AAPP Case No. 0062" (PDF). Assistance Association for Political Prisoners. Retrieved 7 May 2011. 
  7. ^ "Rambo Draws World's Attention to Forgotten Crisis in Burma". Burma Campaign UK. 12 Feb 2008. Retrieved 7 May 2011. 
  8. ^ Thomas Bell (18 February 2008). "Banned Rambo film hot property in Burma". The Telegraph. Retrieved 7 May 2011. 
  9. ^ Rachel Harvey (24 February 2010). "Burma's youth rapping for change". BBC News. Retrieved 7 May 2011. 
  10. ^ Min Lwin (18 April 2008). "Popular Burmese Rap Performer Arrested". The Irrawaddy. Retrieved 8 May 2011. 
  11. ^ a b c "MYANMAR: Hip-Hop Artist and Student Activist Jailed for Peaceful Protest" (PDF). Amnesty International. Retrieved 8 May 2011. 
  12. ^ "5 Generation Wave activists sentenced". Mizzima News. 20 November 2008. Retrieved 8 May 2011. 
  13. ^ "ပြည်သူ့ နာကျင်၊ခံစားမှုကို အနုပညာဖန်တီးချင်တယ်". မဇ္ဈိမသတင်းဌာန (in Burmese). 29 July 2011. Retrieved 7 August 2011. 
  14. ^ Phanida (4 August 2011). "Hip-hop singer Zay Yar Thaw forbidden to perform in charity show". Mizzima News. Retrieved 7 August 2011. 
  15. ^ "Generation Wave Celebrates 6th Anniversary". 2013-10-10. Retrieved 2014-04-08.