On March 26, Burma's popular hip hop artist, Zayar Thaw, celebrated his 29th birthday serving his third year under detention in Burma's southernmost prison at Kawthaung.
One of four founding members of the underground youth organization known as Generation Wave, he was arrested on March 12, 2008, charged with forming an illegal organization and sentenced to six years imprisonment.
Set up during the 2007 Saffron Revolution, Generation Wave uses non-violent methods such as graffiti, slogans and pamphlets to politicize Burma’s younger generations.
At the time of Zyar Thaw's arrest, Aung Gyi, a lawyer representing him and five members of Generation Wave, told The Irrawaddy that a court in Rangoon’s Lanmadaw Township convicted Zayar Thaw of dealings in foreign currency and membership in an illegal organization.
The five members of Generation Wave—Arkar Bo, Aung Zay Phyo, Thiha Win Tint, Wai Lwin Myo and Yan Naing Thu—were all arrested together at a restaurant on Saya San Road.
Sent to Insein prison, they were transferred to prisons around the country in December 2008, making it difficult for their relatives to visit them.
Minutes before Zayar Thaw was sentenced, he wrote a statement which was leaked out to Generation Wave members.
“Tell the people to have the courage to reject the things they don’t like, and even if they don’t dare to openly support the right thing, tell them not to support the wrong thing,” his statement said.
“We are sad that our comrade Zayar Thaw is spending his birthday behind bars but we are so proud and honored that he did the right thing and gave up his liberty to fight for freedom in our country,” said Min Yan Naing, a co-founder of Generation Wave, speaking to The Irrawaddy.
“We salute him for his effort and wish him a very happy birthday.”
In 2000, Zayar Thaw's band Acid released the first ever hip hop album in Burma. Before its release, the music industry warned that it would be a commercial flop. However, Acid’s album “Beginning” went straight to number 1 and stayed there for two months.
Acid's co-founder, Yan Yan Chan, was also arrested in April 2008 and stayed in prison till his release in January 2009. Details of his arrest are vague, but it is believed to have been in connection with Zayar Thaw’s arrest and the suspicions authorities have about music celebrities.
Zayar Thaw is highly respected in the music industry, especially among up and coming artists who know him for his tutoring skills, as he spent much of his time teaching youngsters about hip hop music, fashion and graffiti.
His stage shows were known for being highly energetic events and were often sell outs.
As well as being a musician, Zayar Thaw was also a social activist and used his music to raise awareness and funds through performing in charity concerts.
In one concert he teamed up with the two famous Burmese poets, Saw Wai and Aung Way, for a fund-raising event for the White Rainbow Social Act Group, which raised money for HIV orphans sponsored by the charity founded by detained Burmese comedian Zarganar.
Zayar Thaw also visited the orphanages that Zaganar's charity looked after, helping teach the children English with another famous rapper, Nge Nge.
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