Myanmar Executes Four Pro-Democracy Activists

    GovernanceAccountabilityMyanmar Executes Four Pro-Democracy Activists
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    Myanmar Executes Four Pro-Democracy Activists

    As part of democratic reforms in 2014, the sentences of prisoners on death row were commuted to life imprisonment. But several dozen convicts received death sentences between then and last year’s takeover of the country’s government by the military junta.

    Forty-six years since the last judicial execution, the military government of Myanmar on Monday executed four pro-democracy activists. The activists included a former parliamentarian, Phyo Zeya Thaw, and longtime activist Kyaw Min Yu and Hla Myo Aung and Aung Thura Zaw.

    The military junta ruling the country had earlier accused the four men of indulging in “terror acts”, for which the death sentences were announced.

    Phyo Zeya Thaw, a former lawmaker from ousted leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy party. Also known as Maung Kyaw, he was convicted in January by a closed military court of offences involving possession of explosives, bombings and financing terrorism after he was arrested last November based on information from people detained for shooting security personnel, state media had 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.

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    Democracy activist Kyaw Min Yu, better known as Ko Jimmy, was executed 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.

    Ko Jimmy had already spent over 12 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.

    Outrage and dismay

    The last judicial execution to be carried out in Myanmar is generally believed to have been of another pro-democracy activist, student leader Salai Tin Maung Oo, in 1976 under a previous military government led by dictator Ne Win.

    In 2014, during the period of democratic reform, the sentences of prisoners on death row were commuted to life imprisonment, but several dozen convicts received death sentences between then and last year’s takeover.

    Thomas Andrews, the UN’s independent UN human rights expert for Myanmar called on the world community for a strong international response to the executions of the four activists by the country’s military junta.

    Thomas Andrews said he was “outraged and devastated” following what’s believed to be the first use of capital punishment in the Southeast Asian nation in decades.

    “UN Member States must honour their lives by making this depraved act a turning point for the world’s response to this crisis,” he said.

    Alongside, the UN human rights chief Michelle Bachelet expressed her dismay, saying that the executions happened despite appeal from across the world. The military leaders had move ahead with the executions with “no regard” for international rights law, she said.

    “This cruel and regressive step is an extension of the military’s ongoing repressive campaign against its own people”, said High Commissioner Bachelet.

    “These executions – the first in Myanmar in decades – are cruel violations of the rights to life, liberty and security of a person, and fair trial guarantees. For the military to widen its killing will only deepen its entanglement in the crisis it has itself created.”

    Bachelet 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.

    International law violations

    Sentenced to death in closed-door trials in January and April, the four men had been accused of helping insurgents to fight the army that seized power in a coup on February 1 last year, and unleashed a bloody crackdown which has resulted in multiple rights abuses.

    The executions were carried out despite worldwide pleas for clemency for the four men, including from UN experts and Cambodia, which holds the rotating chairmanship of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).

    Mr Andrews condemned the decision to go ahead with the executions when they were announced in June. In a statement he 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.”

    He called for “strong action” from UN Member States against the “widespread and systematic murders of protesters, indiscriminate attacks against entire villages and now the execution of opposition leaders.”

    “The status quo of international inaction must be firmly rejected,” he added.

    In June, UN Secretary-General António Guterres also called for charges to be dropped “against those arrested on charges related to the exercise of their fundamental freedoms and rights, and for the immediate release of all political prisoners in Myanmar”.

    Amnesty International’s Regional Director Erwin van der Borght said, “At a time when more and more countries take steps to abolish the death penalty, the resumption of executions after more than three decades not only puts it at odds with the global trend, but is also contrary to the goal of abolition enshrined under international human rights law and standards. Myanmar’s isolation could not be any more glaring. We urge the authorities to immediately establish a moratorium on executions as a first critical step.”

    Borght urged that the military regime be held accountable for its actions. “For more than a year now, Myanmar’s military authorities have engaged in extrajudicial killings, torture and a whole gamut of human rights violations,” he said. “The military will only continue to trample on people’s lives if they are not held accountable.”


    Representative Image: Zinko Hein / Unsplash

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