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Myanmar junta defends 'lawful' executions as outrage grows

July 26, 2022

Despite mounting outrage over the executions of four political prisoners, Myanmar's military rulers have pushed back against criticism, calling the executions "justice for the people."

Young demonstrators shout slogans and hold flares during an anti-coup protest in Yangon, Myanmar
The executions of the four democracy activists sparked outrage and protests, including in the city of YangonImage: NurPhoto/STR/picture alliance

Myanmar's military stood by its decision on Tuesday to execute four democracy activists after the move drew international rebuke and condemnation.

A spokesperson for the Myanmar junta called the executions "justice for the people" and maintained that the "trial was lawful."

"These criminals had chance to defend themselves," spokesperson Zaw Min Tun said.

"We knew executions would draw criticism but was done for justice. It is wrong that they are accusing us of taking action on democracy," the spokesperson said, adding they "deserved many death sentences."

The executions were the first cases of capital punishment in Myanmar in decades.

'Lack of will' to implement peace plan

Pressure has been mounting on Myanmar's military government over the executions.

One of the strongest statements on Tuesday came from Malaysia, who said the junta appeared to make "a mockery" of a Southeast Asian-led peace plan and said they amounted to crimes against humanity.

Malaysian Foreign Minister Saifuddin Abdullah also questioned the timing of the executions, noting that they occurred a week before a meeting of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). Myanmar is also a member of the 10-member bloc. 

This year's ASEAN chair, Cambodia, also sharply condemned the move by Myanmar's military leaders. A Cambodian government statement noted that the executions had taken place "despite the personal appeal" of Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen to halt proceedings.

"The implementation of the death sentences just a week before the 55th ASEAN ministerial meeting is highly reprehensible," the statement added.

Cambodia also decried the Myanmar junta's "gross lack of will" to support ASEAN's UN-backed peace plan. In April 2021, ASEAN reached a "Five-Point Consensus" with the junta.

A war between military junta and people Myanmar: Phil Robertson, Human Rights Watch

International condemnation

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres strongly condemned the executions and reiterated his call "for the immediate release of all arbitrarily detained prisoners, including President Win Myint and State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi."

The European Union, Australia, Japan, New Zealand, United Kingdom and United States issued a joint statement condemning the executions.

"The Myanmar military regime's executions of pro-democracy and opposition leaders are reprehensible acts of violence that further exemplify the regime's disregard for human rights and the rule of law," they said.

The US also urged countries to refrain from any action that would lend the junta any international credibility. "With these horrific atrocities that the junta has carried out, there can be no business as usual with this regime," US State Department spokesperson Ned Price said, calling on countries to ban sales of military equipment to Myanmar.

Meanwhile, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian refused to comment on the executions, saying Beijing "always upholds the principle of non-interference in other countries' internal affairs."

Who were the executed men?

The four people executed included democracy activist Kyaw Min Yu and former lawmaker and hip-hop artist Phyo Zeya Thaw.

Thaw was a lawmaker from ousted leader Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy (NLD).

The other two executed men were Hla Myo Aung and Aung Thura Zaw. They were convicted of killing a woman they allegedly believed was an informer for the military. 

Local media in Myanmar reported that the four had been charged under a counterterrorism law and the penal code.

Over 2,100 people have been killed in Myanmar amid a military crackdown on dissent since last year's military coup, according to a local monitoring group.

ss/rs (AFP, Reuters)

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