Myanmar’s military junta executed four pro-democracy activists on Monday, marking the first death sentences handed down in this Southeast Asian nation since 1988, Amnesty International said. The four men executed, including an opposition politician, had been sentenced to death in a closed-door trial in January. They were accused of terrorism and conspiracy against the military regime. Last month, the spokesman for the military government, Zaw Min Tun, defended the country’s death penalty, claiming that it is justified and that it continues in other regions. The former Burma has been plunged into a deep political, economic and social crisis since the Army carried out a coup on February 1, 2021, with which it seized power from the democratic government of the Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi. .
In a note published Monday by the military-controlled Myanmar National Agency, military authorities confirmed that the prisoners were executed by hanging, although it did not specify when. The convicts had been accused of helping the new civil militias that since the coup have been fighting against the Tatmadaw —as the country’s army is known— and that have contributed to aggravating the guerrilla war in which the country has been living for decades. In its statement, the junta accuses them of “preparing and conspiring to commit brutal and inhuman terrorist acts, including murder.”
According to the newspaper Global New Light of Myanmar, Among those executed are Kyaw Min Yu (better known as Ko Jimmy), 53, one of the most visible faces of the pro-democracy protests, and former MP Phyo Zeya Thaw, 41, an ally of Suu Kyi. Both lost their appeal to the sentence last June. The other two are Hla Myo Aung and Aung Thura Zaw, accused of having killed a woman for allegedly being a confidant of the military, according to EFE.
“The international community must condemn this barbarism,” Kyaw Zaw, a spokesman for the presidential office of the self-styled Government of National Unity, a shadow administration opposed to the military junta, wrote in a Twitter message.
The four executed had been imprisoned since the beginning of the year in the Insein prison in Yangon, the largest in the nation and where thousands of prisoners of conscience were imprisoned during half a century of military dictatorship, including the de facto leader of the civil government deposed in 2021, Aung San Suu Kyi, who was held there in 2003, 2007 and 2009.
“I am enraged and devastated by the news that the military junta has executed four Burmese nationals and defenders of human rights and democracy,” Tom Andrews, the United Nations special rapporteur for Myanmar, said in a statement. “My heart goes out to their families, friends and loved ones, as well as to all Burmese who are being victims of the atrocities committed by the junta,” he added.
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Amnesty International states that the last execution took place in the former Burma in 1988, under the military dictatorship that ruled the nation for half a century (1962 and 2011). Despite the fact that capital punishment has never been revoked in the country, these sentences used to be commuted to prison sentences after the traditional pardons that the authorities grant on designated dates.
In a televised press conference in early June, government spokesman Zaw Min Tun announced that Myanmar would return to the use of the death penalty. He then claimed that “at least 50 innocent civilians, not including the security forces, died because of him,” referring to the four convicted. “How can this not be called justice? Necessary actions must be taken at the right time,” he added. Since the February 1, 2021 coup, 113 people have received death sentences.
“This means there is no going back. There have been no executions in this country in the last 30 years, and we thought that the death penalty might end up being abolished. Myanmar is plunged into darkness again”, condemns Khin Zaw Win, director of the Burmese study center Tampadipa Institute.
Human Rights Watch has also been harshly critical of Myanmar’s recent use of the death penalty. Elaine Pearson, interim director of this human rights association for Asia, noted in a message that: “The execution of these four men by the board is an act of absolute cruelty. These executions followed clearly unfair and politically motivated military trials. With this barbarism and its contempt for human life, the regime seeks to cool down the protest movement against the coup. The European Union, the United States and other international governments must show the junta that it will be held accountable for its crimes.”
The former Burma has been in the deepest chaos since last year’s military coup. After two decades of transition to democracy, now truncated by the coup, the de facto leader of the deposed government, Aung San Suu Kyi, 77, achieved great popular support that resulted in a wave of demonstrations calling for her release. and defying the violent repression exerted by police and soldiers. Despite the fact that the protests have been mostly peaceful, at least 2,114 people have been killed by the Tatmadaw, according to data collected by the Association for Assistance to Political Prisoners, which does not count those killed during armed clashes or fatalities linked to the regime. military. In addition, 11,759 are detained. Suu Kyi, for her part, has been detained for more than 18 months and is accused of almost twenty crimes that could mean more than two centuries behind bars. At the moment, she has already accumulated four prison sentences.