Myanmar: Military junta executes 4 pro-democracy activists in first death penalty in over 30 years

Myanmar: Military junta executes 4 pro-democracy activists in first death penalty in over 30 years

July 25, 2022, 3:05 PM

July 25, 2022, 3:05 PM

Reuters
Historical pro-democracy activist Kyaw Min Yu, known as Ko Jimmy, was one of those executed (2012 photo).

The Myanmar army has executed four pro-democracy activists, in the first application of the death penalty since the late 1980s in the Asian country.

The four executed, including the writer and historical democrat militant Ko Jimmy and the Deputy Thayar Thawwere accused of committing “terrorist acts”.

They were sentenced to death in a closed-door trial which human rights groups described as arbitrary.

The leader of the Democrats in Myanmar and president of the National League for Democracy (NLD) party, Aung San Suu Kyi, received the news with great sadness, a source told the Burmese BBC service.

Suu Kyi, who was arrested in February 2021 following an army coup, did not comment on the executions, the source added.

Relatives of the deceased gathered at Insein prison on Monday, desperate for information about their loved ones.

Zayar Thaw’s mother explained that she was not told when her son was to be executed and was therefore unable to organize the funeral rites according to tradition.

“When we zoomed in on Friday, my son was healthy and smiling. He asked me for his reading glasses, a dictionary, and some money, so Today I brought those things to prisonKhin Win May told the BBC’s Burmese service.

“That’s why I didn’t think they were going to kill him. I didn’t believe it.”

Ko Jimmy’s sister, whose real name is Kyaw Min Yu, said the bodies had not yet been received.

All the families have submitted requests for information on the executions.

The state news outlet Global News Light of Myanmar it stated that the four men were executed because they “gave directives, made arrangements, and perpetrated conspiracies for brutal and inhumane acts of terror.”

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

They are the first executions in Myanmar (also known as Burma) since 1988, according to the United Nations. In the previous ones the gallows was used.

Military in Rangoon, Myanmar

Getty Images
The junta has militarized daily life in the country and its capital, Rangoon.

In 2021 the military junta seized power in the country with a coup, triggering widespread demonstrations and leading to a military crackdown on pro-democracy protesters, activists and journalists.

Widespread outrage

News of the executions was met with strong criticism from opposition groups and human rights organizations.

“I am outraged and devastated by the news of the executions, by the junta, of Myanmar patriots and defenders of human rights and democracy,” said the UN special rapporteur on human rights in Myanmar, Tom Andrews.

“These depraved acts must be a turning point for the international community,” he said.

Myanmar’s National Unity Government in exile (NUG) said its members are “extremely shocked and saddened” by the executions.

The NUG, a group made up of pro-democracy activists, representatives of armed ethnic groups and former lawmakers formed in response to the 2021 military coup, urged the international community to “punish the murderous military junta for its cruelty and crimes.”

Who were the executed?

Ko Jimmy, 53, was a veteran of the Generation of ’88 Student Group, a Burmese pro-democracy movement known for its activism against the country’s military junta in the 1988 student uprisings.

He and his wife, fellow activist Nilar Thein, are among the pioneers of the pro-democracy movement in the country.

When monks led anti-regime protests in 2007, Ko Jimmy and his wife mobilized activists from the 1988 demonstrations to join.

He spent several spells in prison for his activism before being released in 2012.

In October last year he was arrested on charges of hiding weapons and ammunition in an apartment in Rangoon and being an “advisor” to the National Unity Government.

U Phyo Zayar Thaw (also known as Zeya Thaw), 41, was a former hip-hop idol turned NLD lawmaker.

Zeya Thaw and Aung San Suu Kyi

Reuters
Zeya Thaw was very close to Aung San Suu Kyi.

His band, Acid, released Myanmar’s first hip-hop album, with lyrics full of direct attacks on the military, drawing the ire of the junta.

It gradually became a close ally of Aung San Suu Kyi and often accompanied her on her international meetings with world leaders.

He was arrested in November for alleged crimes under anti-terrorist laws.

Both Zeya Thaw and Ko Jimmy lost their sentence appeals in June.

Less is known about the other two activists: Hla Myo Aung and Aung Thura Zaw. Both were sentenced to death on charges of killing an alleged informer for the junta.

The military maintains that the results of the 2020 general election, which Suu Kyi’s political party won overwhelmingly, were rigged.

Electoral commission authorities have denied the accusation and maintain that there was no evidence of fraud.

Suu Kyi has been held under house arrest since the coup, accused of a wide variety of charges ranging from corruption to violating the country’s official secrets law, for which she could receive a sentence of up to 150 years.

The Association for Assistance to Political Prisoners, which keeps a record of those killed, imprisoned and detained by the military, counts 14,847 people detained since the coup d’état and 2,114 killed by the military.

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