Myanmar’s military regime has executed four anti-coup activists, carrying out its first death sentences in more than three decades, and human rights groups fear more will follow.
117 people have been sentenced to death in Myanmar since the military seized power in a coup in February 2021 according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP), which has been tracking arrests, killings and court verdicts in Myanmar.
The executions were carried out despite worldwide appeals for clemency for the four men, including from UN human rights bodies.
The UN human Rights Experts said the men were “tried, convicted and sentenced…without the right of appeal and reportedly without legal counsel, in violation of international human rights law.”
Families of the executed men were denied the opportunity to retrieve their loved ones’ bodies, said Thazin Nyunt Aung, wife of Phyo Zeyar Thaw, comparing it to murderers covering up their crimes.
Myanmar’s military junta seized power in a coup in February 2021, ousting the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi, and has since unleashed a campaign of brutal violence to suppress opposition. It has embarked on a bloody crackdown against any opposition to its rule.
The military has been accused of crimes against humanity and war crimes by the US, UN and other international bodies as it attempts to assert control over the people, who continue to wage a mass resistance campaign.
Leading Activists Executed
Among those executed was Phyo Zeya Thaw, a former lawmaker from ousted leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy party.
Phyo Zeya Thaw was arrested last November based on information from people detained for shooting security personnel, state media said at the time. He was also accused of being a key figure in a network that carried out what the military described as terrorist attacks in Yangon, the country’s biggest city.
Also executed was democracy activist Kyaw Min Yu, better known as Ko Jimmy, for violating the counterterrorism law. He was one of the leaders of the 88 Generation Students Group, veterans of a failed 1988 popular uprising against military rule.
He already had spent more than a dozen years behind bars for political activism before his arrest in Yangon last October. He had been put on a wanted list for social media postings that allegedly incited unrest, and state media said he was accused of terrorist acts including mine attacks and of heading a group called Moon Light Operation to carry out urban guerrilla attacks.
The other two, Hla Myo Aung and Aung Thura Zaw, were convicted of torturing and killing a woman in March 2021 who they allegedly believed was a military informer.
The men’s death sentences had been condemned by human rights groups, the United States, France and the United Nations, with UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres describing the planned executions as “a blatant violation to the right to life.”
Rights groups say these secretive military tribunals deny the chance to a fair trial and are designed for speedy — and almost certain — convictions, regardless of evidence.
United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet also called for the immediate release of all political prisoners and others arbitrarily detained, and urged the country to reinstate its de-facto moratorium on the use of the death penalty.