The death of Myanmar singer Lily Naing Kyaw, who was shot in the head in Yangon, has shocked both military supporters and celebrities connected to pro-military media. The 58-year-old was close to top junta leaders who seized power in 2021 and was accused of being their informant. Two suspects, allegedly belonging to an urban guerrilla group opposed to the military, have been arrested in connection with her killing. This incident follows a series of assassinations of high-profile government supporters in Myanmar.
Lily Naing Kyaw was targeted on the evening of May 30 while parked outside her house in Yangon’s Yankin Township. She was taken to hospital in critical condition and remained in a coma until her death on June 6. Her family confirmed her death with the BBC, and a government statement described it as the “inhumane shooting of an innocent woman”. Seventeen pro-junta organisations issued statements condemning the killing.
The two suspects, Kaung Zar Ni Hein and Kyaw Thura, are said to be members of the Special Task Force, an armed resistance group based in Yangon. They are in custody awaiting trial, and the military claims they have confessed. The military has also alleged that prominent student leader D Nyein Lynn was behind the shooting. On the night of the suspects’ arrests, the mother and cousin of Kaung Zar Ni Hein were fatally shot at their home in Yangon.
Born into a military family, Lily Naing Kyaw was often pictured at official events and was said to have been targeted because she was a military informant. She had filmed protesters and reported on young people involved with revolutionary forces. The singer had also been chosen to speak to CNN and the Southeast Asia Globe during their visit to Myanmar after the February 2021 coup which ousted Aung San Suu Kyi’s elected National Democratic Party (NLD).
The killing has spread fear among other pro-government Myanmar celebrities, some of whom have announced they will no longer voice their support for the military because they feel they have no protection. They are warning each other to use social media carefully and to keep a low profile, according to close sources.
One entertainer caught up in Myanmar’s political minefield is Paing Takhon, a model and actor who was sentenced to three years in 2021 for joining the anti-coup protests. He was released early after agreeing to collaborate with the military but is now being boycotted after performing for them during the water festival in April. Social media users have accused him of betrayal, and the actor responded by saying that Myanmar was not progressing because people were fighting each other.
There has also been a crackdown on celebrities who criticise the government. Last month, rapper Byu Har was arrested for “disrupting the peace” and “spreading propaganda” after he mocked the junta for constant power outages. His father, the famous composer Naing Myanmar, wrote the anthem of Myanmar’s 1988 pro-democracy movement, which is now sung at protests against the 2021 coup.
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