Myanmar junta executes 4 democracy activists, sparking international outrage

Myanmar’s military junta has executed four democracy activists accused of helping carry out “terrorist acts”, it said on Monday, sparking widespread condemnation of the first executions in the Southeast Asian country. for decades.

Sentenced to death in closed trials in January and April, the four men had been accused of helping militias fight the army which seized power in a coup last year and unleashed a bloody crackdown on its opponents.

Myanmar’s National Unity Government (NUG), a shadow administration banned by the ruling junta, has condemned the executions and called for international action against the junta.

“Extremely saddened (…) condemn the cruelty of the junta,” Kyaw Zaw, spokesman for the NUG president’s office, told Reuters in a message. “The global community must punish their cruelty.”

Among those executed were democracy figure Kyaw Min Yu, better known as Jimmy, and former lawmaker and hip-hop artist Phyo Zeya Thaw, the Global New Light of Myanmar newspaper said.

Kyaw Min Yu, 53, and Phyo Zeya Thaw, a 41-year-old ally of ousted Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi, lost their appeals against the convictions in June. The other two executed were Hla Myo Aung and Aung Thura Zaw.

Kyaw Min Yu, a pro-democracy activist, arrives at Yangon airport in 2012, greeted by his wife and daughter after his release from prison. Yu was among four men recently executed by the Burmese junta. (File Photo/Associated Press)

“These executions amount to arbitrary deprivation of life and are yet another example of Myanmar’s abysmal human rights record,” said Erwin Van Der Borght, Regional Director of Amnesty International.

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“The four men were convicted by a military court in highly secretive and deeply unfair trials. The international community must act immediately as more than 100 people are believed to be on death row after being sentenced in a similar procedure.”

Thazin Nyunt Aung, wife of Phyo Zeyar Thaw, said she was not informed of her husband’s execution. Other relatives could not immediately be reached for comment.

“My heart goes out to their families, friends and loved ones, as well as to all the people in Myanmar who are victims of the escalating atrocities committed by the junta,” said the UN Special Rapporteur on human rights in Myanmar, Tom Andrews, in a statement.

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The men had been held in the colonial-era Insein prison and a person with knowledge of the events said their families visited there last Friday. Only one parent was allowed to speak to inmates via the Zoom online platform, the source added.

Myanmar’s state media reported the executions on Monday and junta spokesman Zaw Min Tun later confirmed the executions to Voice of Myanmar. Neither gave details on the timing.

Previous executions in Myanmar have been by hanging.

An activist group, the Assistance Association of Political Prisoners (AAPP), said the last judicial executions in Myanmar dated back to the late 1980s.

The junta defends the death penalty

Last month, junta spokesman Zaw Min Tun defended the death penalty, saying it was justified and used in many countries.

“At least 50 innocent civilians, not counting the security forces, died because of them,” he told a televised press conference.

“How can you say it’s not justice?” He asked. “The required actions must be carried out in the required times.”

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen, chairman of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), called in a letter in June on junta leader Min Aung Hlaing not to carry out the executions, relaying the deep concern of Myanmar’s neighbours.

Ousted leader Aung San Suu Kyi, pictured in 2019, ruled Myanmar for five years, during a short period of provisional democracy, before being ousted from power in a February 2021 coup by the military , who ruled the former British colony for five years. the last six decades. (Fred Dufour/Getty Images)

The junta condemned the foreign statements on the execution orders as “reckless and intrusive”.

Myanmar has been plunged into chaos since last year’s coup, with conflict spreading across the country after the army crushed mostly peaceful protests in cities.

“For more than a year now, Myanmar’s military authorities have engaged in extrajudicial executions, torture and a range of human rights abuses,” Van Der Borght added.

“The military will only continue to trample people’s lives if they are not held accountable.”

The AAPP says more than 2,100 people have been killed by security forces since the coup. The junta says this figure is exaggerated.

The true picture of the violence has been difficult to gauge as clashes have spread to more remote areas where ethnic minority insurgent groups are also fighting the army.