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The wife of Kyaw Min Yu, a prominent democracy activist whose execution by the Myanmar junta caused global outrage, has urged the country’s people not to stop their fight for democracy, but “to go forward with a victory spirit”.

Photograph: Khin Maung Win/AP © Provided by The Guardian Photograph: Khin Maung Win/AP

Ma Nilar Thein, 50, told the Guardian that she was heartbroken by the killing of her husband but that the public “will hold our hands together in unity”.

“We can’t stop just because we’re sad. And, we can’t be mourning. We have to continue our journey by keeping in mind that we will have to eradicate this military regime,’” she said, referring to the junta that took power in a coup in February 2021.

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Kyaw Min Yu, a writer and translator who spent more than 20 years in prison, was one of four prisoners killed in executions this week that horrified people across Myanmar and the world. They had been sentenced to death after closed trials in which they were accused of conspiring to commit terror acts.

Related: Who were the four people executed by Myanmar’s junta?

Many in the international community had sought to stop the executions, said Ma Nilar Thein, but she added that some wrongly believed the junta would not enact its threat.

“The SAC [State Administration Council] didn’t care about anything and they are doing whatever they want,” she said, referring to the junta’s official title. “Some diplomats took serious action on it. But some diplomats also thought that this [execution] could never happen.

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“Now, the international community should learn that the SAC is not afraid of doing anything,” said Ma Nilar Thein, who spoke from hiding.

“I want to say that this kind of case can be an example, that we can learn about what will or will not happen next. Let’s not underestimate them. When the international community is having a diplomatic relationship with them [the military], I urge you to take effective action,” she said.

There are fears that the junta could execute dozens more people who have been sentenced to death since the coup.

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Ma Nilar Thein and her husband were both prominent leaders in the democracy uprising of 1988, though that movement was eventually crushed by the military, which killed thousands. They have a 15-year-old daughter.

She said she had not been told when the executions would take place. Kyaw Min Yu had asked the family for some money to spend in the prison, and staff had told them to pay on Monday. But then, on Monday, the family read in the news that he had been executed.

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The family, and the relatives of the three other men, have since been denied access to their bodies.

Ma Nilar Thein said that the public must not give up their fight for democracy. “I want people to go forward with a victory spirit that we will win for sure,” she said.

The execution of Kyaw Min Yu, Phyo Zeya Thaw, Hla Myo Aung and Aung Thura Zaw provoked condemnation around the world, as well as mourning and shock across Myanmar.

Sithu Maung, 35, an MP for Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy party, described Kyaw Min Yu as “an artist, a poet and a songwriter and a revolutionist”.

The killings would only drive activists forwards, he said: “We are not the water in their palms, we are the shattered-pieces of glass in their palms … They can hold it in any way they want. At least, their hands will shed with our blood. But we will find justice for that.”

Tributes have also poured in over the past week for Phyo Zeya Thaw, who was among Myanmar’s first generation of rappers, a founder of the pro-democracy movement Generation Wave, and later a prominent NLD politician.

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Moe Thway, a close friend of Phyo Zeya Thaw, described him as a man of strong convictions. “He is very determined about politics. If he doesn’t want to do [something], he wouldn’t do it. But if he did it, he did it good,” he said.

The two studied together in high school, and took part in pro-democracy protests as students in 1996, distributing pamphlets in their school.

Phyo Zeya Thaw didn’t always study hard as a teenager, but was naturally smart, he said. “When we’re in Grade 9, that was the time that we [experimented] with everything. We smoked and wrote poems,” remembered Moe Thway.

In music and politics, Phyo Zeya Thaw excelled. His band, Acid, released Myanmar’s first rap album, with lyrics that captured the anger and frustration of a young generation.

“People think that he is a rapper and an activist. But he also has academic sense,” said Moe Thway. As an MP, his sleeping quarters at parliament were made into a library for other MPs.

In the aftermath of last year’s coup, Phyo Zeya Thaw worked with young people on the ground and showed his leadership in the armed resistance movement, said Moe Thway. Many have taken up arms in response to military violence.

Phyo Zeya Thaw had created for himself the most precious legacy, Moe Thway said: “I am proud of being his comrade.”

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