Opinion: What a hip-hop star on death row has to do with dictators everywhere

Foreign Affairs Minister of the National Unity Government of Myanmar, Zin Mar Aung.

Zin Mar Aung is Foreign Affairs Minister of the National Unity Government of Myanmar. A former political prisoner and lawmaker, Zin Mar Aung was ousted from office when the Myanmar military seized power in a coup on February 1, 2021. She is currently outside of her country for her safety. The views expressed here are the author's. Read more opinion on CNN.

(CNN)I am thinking of a man who sang of freedom. His name is Zeyar Thaw.

He released my country's first hip-hop album in 2000. In the Myanmar of that time, this was almost a revolution. His rap touched the lives of many.
Anyone who spoke of freedom then was living dangerously. A founder of Generation Wave, a pro-democracy movement, Zeyar Thaw's music brought him inevitably into politics.
    In 2011, after a stint in prison for his political activism and just as our democratic transition began, Zeyar Thaw was released and elected to parliament.
      Now he is sitting on death row. A few weeks ago, Zeyar Thaw and fellow freedom activist Ko Jimmy were sentenced to die by the military regime that stole power in February 2021. If their execution goes ahead it will be the first in the country in decades.
        Their crime? The regime accuses them of being "involved in terrorist acts." What does this mean? That they believe in freedom.
        The National Unity Government (NUG) has recorded almost 3,000 people who have been killed since the illegal coup. More than one million people have been displaced from their homes, with many seeking shelter in refugee camps. Another 1.6 million more have lost their jobs. More than 19,000 homes have been destroyed, the NUG estimates.
          The then-National League for Democracy (NLD) candidate  Zeyar Thaw in Yangon on April 7, 2012.
          I was elected by the people of my constituency in November 2020. I was waiting to take the oath of office and to choose our next President. But on February 1, 2021, soldiers under the command of Senior General Min Aung Hlaing surrounded the dormitories where we lived as parliamentary members. They forced each of us to choose -- do we surrender to their guns or do we resist?
          I had already endured 11 hard years as a political prisoner under a previous military regime between 1998 and 2009. Most of those I spent in solitary confinement. This time, I could not just watch as another despotic general forced my country into chaos. I chose resistance.
          So did Zeyar Thaw and Ko Jimmy and many thousands across Myanmar. Nurses, teachers, doctors, farmers, even children -- they came out into the streets against the unwanted coup.
          We chose to assert our legitimacy, as elected members of parliament. We formed the National Unity Government because our freedom will not be stolen by the military's Russian guns.
          Russia continues to be a major supplier of arms, equipment and training to the military in my country, including fighter jets, helicopters and drones -- weapons which have been used to bomb and kill civilians since the coup.
          We have first-hand experience that Russia's military interference is not limited to Ukraine. Russia and Myanmar are strengthening their ties and we see it as part of a larger strategic engagement with Southeast Asia -- a coordinated attempt to promote autocracy and erode democracy in the region.
          In turn, the military junta has sided with Russian President Vladimir Putin and his invasion of Ukraine. Just last week a high level delegation from the military council attended the 25th St. Petersburg International Economic Forum with the aim of strengthening their ties with the Russian regime.
          Myanmar's Commander-in-Chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing on Armed Forces Day in Naypyidaw, Myanmar, on March 27, 2021.
          We are living in a world where dictators support each other to retain their power. Therefore it must be clear that the struggle for democracy and freedom undertaken by the Myanmar people is a struggle that concerns everyone.
          I am the Foreign Minister of the National Unity Government of Myanmar. It is my task to tell the world we will not be defeated. But what can I tell the people of Myanmar in return? What is the world saying to us?
          Over a year on from the coup, no country has formally recognized the regime of Gen. Min Aung Hlaing. The military continues its campaign of violence -- killing, burning, destroying food and crops, imprisoning people without charge. The generals stand accused of dreadful crimes against the Rohingya Muslim community and other ethnic minority people in our country.
          It claims it is targeting what it calls and has designated "terrorists" and blames many of these incidents on resistance fighters, rather than its own military.
          Military hardware is displayed during Myanmar's 77th Armed Forces Day parade in Naypyidaw on March 27.
          But US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken's words in March 2022 need to be heard: "There is no one the Burmese military won't come for. No one is safe from atrocities under its rule. And so more people in Burma now recognize that ending this crisis, restoring the path to democracy, starts with ensuring the human rights of all people in the country, including Rohingya."
          We have to overcome this junta, changing their calculus so that they realize that they cannot keep Myanmar forever in the chains of their fear and greed.
          This is how we are going to do it.
          We must deny the junta the income that funds its violence. The United States, the European Union and the United Kingdom have imposed some sanctions against the regime. But much more must be done to deny the junta the foreign currency it craves.
          The military continues to rely on funds from foreign companies to fund its acts of war. That flow of money, especially oil dollars, must and can be stopped.