Myanmar’s military regime said on Monday it had executed four pro-democracy activists convicted of aiding resistance forces in widely questioned trials.
The four men were sentenced to death between January and April, and it was not detailed when or how they died. The Association for Assistance to Political Prisoners (AAPP) claims they were the first judicial executions in the country since the late 1980s.
Among those killed by the military junta, which seized power through a coup in February 2021, is Phyo Zeya Thaw, 41, a former deputy from the National League for Democracy (LND), a party to which the civilian leader also belongs. Aung San Suu Kyi, arrested by the Armed Forces.
Before entering politics, in 2012, Phyo became known for his work as a rapper, with lyrics that were critical of the current military regime — Myanmar has watched the military in power since 1962 and had a small window of democratic opening from 2011 .
Kyaw Min Yu, 53, Hla Myo Aung and Aung Thura Zaw were also killed. “These executions amount to the arbitrary deprivation of life and are yet another example of Myanmar’s cruel human rights record,” said Erwin Van Der Borght, Amnesty International’s regional director.
NGOs are pressing the international community for responses, in particular to prevent further executions from taking place. AAPP figures show that, since the military took power, 76 prisoners were sentenced to death, as well as another 41 fugitives, totaling 117 sentenced to execution.
Thazin Nyunt Aung, wife of Phyo Zeyar Thaw, told Reuters news agency that she was not informed of her husband’s execution. The men were being held in Insein, a colonial-era prison.
To the British network BBC Zayar Thaw’s mother also reported not having been informed. She planned to take money, glasses and a dictionary to the prison, requests that her son made by video call last Friday (22), when they talked. “My son was healthy, smiling.”
The four were charged with crimes linked to the new anti-terrorism law. Phyo and Kyaw – known as Jimmy and an opponent of the Army since their teens – were accused of having orchestrated attacks against the junta. The other two were accused of executing an alleged military informant.
Kyaw, one of Myanmar’s best-known veteran activists, led the Generation 1988 Student Group, the year there was a violent crackdown on protests against the regime. He was arrested for his role in the mobilizations and released in 2005. He was later detained again on two occasions, in 2007 and 2012.
The state-run Global News Light agency, in which the news was reported, said they were executed because they “gave directives and orchestrated brutal and inhumane terrorist acts”.
UN experts, in a recent report, said that the martial law imposed in Myanmar shortly after the coup gave the military the possibility of enacting the death penalty for 23 types of crimes whose definitions would be vague and of repressing any criticism of the current power.
Tom Andrews, the UN special rapporteur on human rights in Myanmar, condemned the executions and said the episode should fuel a stronger response. “UN member states must honor their lives by making this act a turning point.” United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres reiterated calls for the release of “arbitrarily detained prisoners”, citing Suu Kyi and condemning the death penalty “in all circumstances”.
Pressure has also grown against the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean), a bloc of which Myanmar is a part and which has been accused of maintaining a measured stance in the face of military rule.
Japanese Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi said the killings went against repeated calls for a peaceful resolution to the conflict and that they further isolate Myanmar. The US embassy also condemned the executions. China, in turn, called, through the Foreign Ministry’s spokesman, that “all parties resolve conflicts within the constitutional framework” and claimed that it prioritizes the principle of non-interference in other countries’ domestic affairs.