Myanmar executes four democracy activists, drawing condemnation and outrage
YANGON — Myanmar’s military junta on Monday said it had executed four democracy activists accused of helping to
carry out “terror acts” in the Southeast Asian nation’s first
executions in decades, sparking widespread condemnation.
Sentenced to death in closed-door trials in January and
April, the four men had been accused of helping militias to
fight the army that seized power in a coup last year and
unleashed a bloody crackdown on its opponents.
Myanmar’s National Unity Government (NUG), a shadow
administration outlawed by the ruling military junta, condemned
the executions and called for international action against
“Extremely saddened … condemn the junta’s cruelty,” the
NUG president’s office spokesman Kyaw Zaw told Reuters via
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 sentences in June. The two others executed were Hla
Myo Aung and Aung Thura Zaw.
“I am outraged and devastated at the news of the junta’s
execution of Myanmar patriots and champions of human rights and
democracy,” Tom Andrews, the U.N. special rapporteur on human
rights in Myanmar, said in a statement.
“My heart goes out to their families, friends and loved ones
and indeed all the people in Myanmar who are victims of the
junta’s escalating atrocities … These depraved acts must be a
turning point for the international community.”
Thazin Nyunt Aung, the wife of Phyo Zeyar Thaw, said she had
not been told of her husband’s execution. Other relatives could
not immediately be reached for comment.
The men had been held in the colonial-era Insein prison and
a person with knowledge of the events said their families
visited the prison last Friday. Only one relative was allowed to
speak to the detainees via the Zoom online platform, said the
Myanmar’s state media on Monday reported the executions had
taken place and junta spokesman Zaw Min Tun later confirmed the
executions to Voice of Myanmar. Neither gave any details about
when the executions occurred.
Previous executions in Myanmar have been by hanging.
An activist group, the Assistance Association of Political
Prisoners (AAPP), said Myanmar’s last judicial executions were
in the late 1980s.
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, excluding security forces,
died because of them,” he told a televised news conference.
“How can you say this is not justice?” he asked. “Required
actions are needed to be done in the required moments.”
Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen, chair of the Association
of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean), appealed in a letter in June
to junta leader Min Aung Hlaing not to carry out the executions,
relaying deep concern among Myanmar’s neighbors.
Myanmar’s ruling junta has condemned foreign statements
about the execution orders as “reckless and interfering.”
Myanmar has been in chaos since last year’s coup, with
conflict spreading nationwide after the army crushed mostly
peaceful protests in cities.
“These horrendous executions were murders. They’re a part of
the junta’s ongoing crimes against humanity and attack on the
civilian population,” Matthew Smith, head of Southeast Asia’s
Fortify Rights, told Reuters.
“The junta would be completely wrong to think this would
instill fear in the hearts of the revolution.”
The AAPP says more than 2,100 people have been killed by the
security forces since the coup. The junta says that figure is
The true picture of violence has been hard to assess as
clashes have spread to more remote areas where ethnic minority
insurgent groups are also fighting the military.
Last Friday, the World Court rejected Myanmar’s objections
to a genocide case over its treatment of the Muslim Rohingya
minority, paving the way for the case to be heard in full.
The latest executions close off any chance of ending the
unrest in the country, said Myanmar analyst Richard Horsey, of
the International CRISIS group.
“Any possibility of dialog to end the crisis created by
the coup has now been removed,” Horsey told Reuters.
“This is the regime demonstrating that it will do what it
wants and listen to no one. It sees this as a demonstration of
strength, but it may be a serious miscalculation.”
Acting Asia director of Human Rights Watch, Elaine Pearson,
said the executions aimed to chill the anti-coup protest
“European Union member states, the United States, and other
governments should show the junta that there will be a reckoning
for its crimes,” said Pearson.
“They should demand immediate measures, including the
release of all political prisoners, and let the junta know the
atrocities it commits have consequences.”
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