Army executes four democracy activists, including former MP

Prominent pro-democracy activist Kyaw Min Yu, or Ko Jimmy (pictured here in 2012), was one of four executed

Four democracy activists have been executed by Myanmar’s military in what is believed to be the first use of the death penalty in decades.

The four – including activist Ko Jimmy and MP Phyo Zeya Thaw – have been charged with committing “terrorist acts”.

They were sentenced to death in a closed trial that rights groups have called unfair.

Family members of the deceased gathered at Insein prison on Monday, desperate to get information about their loved ones.

Zayar Thaw’s mother says she was not told exactly when her son would be executed, adding that she was therefore unable to plan the proper traditional funeral.

“When we met on Zoom last Friday, my son was healthy and smiling. He asked me to send his reading glasses, dictionary and some money to use in jail, so I brought those things in jail today,” Khin Win Tint told the BBC’s Myanmar Service. “That’s why I didn’t think they would kill him. I didn’t believe it.”

Meanwhile, Ko Jimmy’s sister – whose real name is Kyaw Min Yu – said earlier that they had yet to receive the bodies.

The families have all submitted requests for information about the executions.

Myanmar’s state-run Global News Light newspaper said the four men were executed because they “gave directions, arrangements and conspiracies for brutal and inhumane acts of terror”.

He said they had been charged under anti-terrorism laws, but did not say when or how they were executed.

The executions are the first since 1988, according to the United Nations. Previous executions in Myanmar have been by hanging.

In 2021, the country’s military seized power, an event that sparked widespread protests, prompting a military crackdown on pro-democracy protesters, activists and journalists.

“Shocked and saddened”

News of the murder drew heavy criticism from opposition groups and human rights organizations.

“I am outraged and devastated by the news of the execution by the junta of Myanmar patriots and defenders of human rights and democracy,” says the UN special rapporteur on human rights in Myanmar, Tom Andrews. “These depraved acts must be a turning point for the international community.”

Myanmar’s National Unity Shadow Government (NUG) said it was “extremely shocked and saddened” by the killings.

The NUG – a group that includes pro-democracy figures, representatives of ethnic armed groups and former lawmakers that was formed in response to the 2021 military coup – urged the international community to “punish (the) murderous military junta for its cruelty and murders”.

National League for Democracy (NLD) party leader Aung San Suu Kyi and MP Thaw leave after attending a meeting of the lower house of parliament in Naypyitaw

Phyo Zeya Thaw was a close ally of Aung San Suu Kyi

Who were the accused?

Ko Jimmy, 53, was a veteran of the Generation 88 student group – a pro-democracy Burmese movement known for its activism against the country’s military junta during the 1988 student uprisings. He served several stints in prison for his involvement in the pro-democracy movement, before being released in 2012.

He was arrested in October last year after being accused of hiding weapons and ammunition in an apartment in Yangon and being an “adviser” to the national unity government.

Phyo Zeya Thaw, 41, was a former NLD lawmaker and a close ally of Suu Kyi.

A former hip-hop artist, he often drew the wrath of the junta for his anti-military lyrics. He was arrested in November for alleged anti-terrorism offences.

Phyo Zeya Thaw and Ko Jimmy lost their appeals against their convictions in June.

Less is known about the other two activists – Hla Myo Aung and Aung Thura Zaw. They were sentenced to death for killing a woman who was an alleged junta informant.

The military has claimed the results of a general election in which Suu Kyi’s political party won a landslide victory were rigged – a charge election commission officials have denied, saying there is no had no evidence of fraud.

Since the coup, Suu Kyi has been held under house arrest and slapped with a litany of charges ranging from bribery to violating the country’s Official Secrets Act, which could see her serve a sentence of up to at 150 years old.

The Association for Assistance to Political Prisoners (AAPP), which keeps a record of those killed, imprisoned or detained by the military, says 14,847 people have been arrested since the coup, of whom 2,114 are believed to have been killed by military forces.

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