WASHINGTON - The arrest of Byuhar, a popular rapper in Myanmar, has caused widespread alarm among his loved ones and fellow artists.
The 38-year-old rapper, whose legal name is Min Oak Myanmar, had strongly criticized the Myanmar junta, calling them 'incompetent fools,' on social media because of the worsening power outage situation in Myanmar's largest city, Yangon. He was arrested at his residence in North Dagon, a suburb of Yangon, on May 24.
In the video posted on Facebook, Byuhar praised the ousted civilian government led by Aung San Suu Kyi for providing '24 hours of electricity, not only that, but the electricity bill was also going down during her five years in office.' After criticizing the junta ministers in the video, the rapper stated his home address, challenging the authorities to arrest him if they disapproved of the post. Two days later, they did just that.
After Byuhar's arrest, his family and friends were unable to reach him for five days. According to his wife, she went to the police station to find out where he was being held but received no response from the police.
In an interview with VOA by phone Monday, Byuhar's wife said that her husband cannot hire a lawyer because the ruling junta has declared the area where they live to be in a 'state of emergency.' According to the junta's state of emergency rules, trials in those areas must be conducted in a military court without the need for a civilian court trial.
Police finally let Byuhar's family visit him five days later, on Monday. 'I took our two children to see him at the North Dagon police station, where he was detained,' his wife told VOA. 'I was told he will be kept there until June 9th." She doesn't know what will become of him after that, but she fears for the worst. "We were so worried about him after false reports on social media that he had died during interrogation. We are very concerned for his safety."
The rapper's detention is the latest in a string of arrests of artists who have spoken out against the regime. One such artist, Phyo Zaya Thaw, was executed by the military last year for his involvement in the anti-coup movement. The arrests of influential artists are widely viewed as an attempt by the junta to silence its critics.
Byuhar is the son of renowned composer Naing Myanmar, who penned the popular song The World Is Unforgiving during Myanmar's 1988 uprising, a series of nationwide protests, marches, and riots in Burma (now Myanmar) that culminated in August 1988.
Monday, Myanmar's state-owned newspaper, Myanmar Ahalin, reported on Byuhar's arrest. The report stated that 'the anti-terrorism law and the electronic communication law can be used to prosecute those who distribute through social networks incitement to destroy government apparatus, propaganda, or threats.' The report goes on to state that Byuhar can be charged under section 505(a), which criminalizes comments that 'cause fear, spread false news, or agitate a criminal offense against a government employee.'
Following the 2021 military coup in Myanmar, the military junta amended section 505(a) to criminalize 'fake news' and 'incitement' against the military.
According to experts, the amendment to the Anti-Terrorism Law issued March 1 permits authorities to eavesdrop on suspects, seize their assets, and take other measures to suppress the opposition.
Byuhar's wife told VOA that her husband doesn't know which charges he could be facing. 'When I saw him, he was still strong mentally,' she said, 'but he has stomach pain and needs medication.' When asked about signs of torture or physical abuse, she declined to comment.
According to a news release issued by Burma Campaign UK on May 30, 'more than 22,000 people have been detained [since the beginning of the coup], and political prisoners have been subjected to torture and sexual violence after their arrest. For the first time in decades, executions are occurring again. There is no freedom of speech, media outlets are banned or extensively censored, and internet access is restricted or blocked entirely.'
Lin Htet, a Myanmar musician and composer, told VOA that he and his fellow artists are concerned about being detained and beaten for criticizing the junta over things like the lack of regular electrical service. Lin Htet himself opposed the military revolution in February 2021 and actively participated in anti-coup movements. He escaped overseas and is currently residing in the United States.
"I am concerned for Byuhar's life and health, especially because the junta is arresting and torturing individuals.' Lin Htet told VOA. 'Byuhar expressed what the people were actually experiencing. In addition to not receiving consistent electricity, people are suffering due to the current predicament. Byuhar is incredibly courageous for articulating how people suffer under the junta."