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Myanmar junta executes 4 democracy activists

July 25, 2022

These are the country's first executions since the 1980s. Among the executed men, who were accused of "terror acts," were democracy activist Kyaw Min Yu and former NLD lawmaker Phyo Zeya Thaw.

File photos of democracy activist Kyaw Min Yu (L) and lawmaker Phyo Zeya Thaw (R)
Democracy activist Kyaw Min Yu (L) and lawmaker Phyo Zeya Thaw (R) were among those executedImage: AP/picture alliance

Myanmar's military hangs political prisoners

Myanmar's military authorities executed four democracy activists, state media reported on Monday.

The activists were accused of leading "brutal and inhumane terror acts," the Global New Light of Myanmar newspaper said. The executions are Myanmar's first in decades. The report did not specify how the activists were killed. 

Who were the executed men?

The executed men included democracy activist Kyaw Min Yu and former lawmaker and hip-hop artist Phyo Zeya Thaw, the newspaper reported.

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. 

The Global New Light of Myanmar said that the four had been charged under a counterterrorism law and the penal code. The newspaper said the punishment had been conducted under the prison's procedures.

UN says executions a 'vile attempt at instilling fear'

The four were sentenced to death in January in a closed-doors trial. They were accused of helping militias to fight the army, which seized power in a coup last year. 

Two UN experts called the planned executions a "vile attempt at instilling fear" among the people.

First execution in decades causes outrage in Myanmar: Journalist Tin Tin Nyo

Myanmar authorities engaged in a brutal crackdown to quash protests against the coup. The Assistance Association of Political Prisoners (AAPP) activist group said that 2,100 people have been killed by security forces since the coup in February 2021.

The AAPP said, before Monday, the last judicial executions in Myanmar took place in the late 1980s.

Aye Min Thant, an exiled journalist from Myanmar told DW if the junta's goal was to instill more fear, it would likely fail.

"It is more likely that it would instill more anger, and indeed we have already seen attacks on various military institutions," she said.

The United Nation's special rapporteur for Myanmar, Tom Andrews, said that he was "outraged and devastated" over the executions.

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

Myanmar shadow national unity government spokesman Kyaw Zaw said that members of the government-in-exile were "extremely saddened" and "condemn the junta's cruelty with strongest terms." He stressed that "the global community must punish their cruelty."

International Crisis Group Myanmar analyst Richard Horsey said that "any possibility to end the crisis created by the coup has now been removed."

"[Myanmar's junta] sees this as a demonstration of strength, but it may be a serious miscalculation," he concluded.

"There were no executions for 30 years. This turns back the clock... going back into [the] dark ages," Khin Zaw Win, director of the Tampadipa Institute think tank, said.

Calls to hold military accountable for rights abuses

Phil Robertson, Deputy Asia Director at Human Rights Watch (HRW), told DW that the executions were "outrageous and unacceptable actions by the Myanmar military junta" that "should be a turning point for the international community."

"It needs to be a new inflection point for real action. Not more statements, but we need to see action on sanctions. We need to see action on holding the military accountable for its rights abuses. We need to see action on the UN Security Council moving to have a global arms embargo," Robertson said. 

Robertson said international sanctions were not "targeting enough of the corporations connected with the military."

"The reality is they have not inflicted the pain they need to. And particularly they have to go after the Myanmar oil and gas enterprise," he said.

"It's got to be something that's got real teeth and something that is strategic, and to date we just haven't seen that," he added.

In a statement, HRW called on the European Union member states, the United States, and other governments to "show the junta that there will be a reckoning for its crimes."

"They should demand immediate measures, including the release of all political prisoners, and let the junta know the atrocities it commits have consequences," the statement said. 

International condemnation

The German Foreign Ministry said the execution of two well-known activists showed the "military's contempt for the democratic aspirations of its own people." 

A White House statement condemned the "heinous execution," adding that the US calls on the junta "immediately cease violence, release those they have unjustly detained, and allow for a peaceful return to democracy in accordance with the wishes of the people of Burma."

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken denounced the executions. "The regime's sham trials and these executions are blatant attempts to extinguish democracy; these actions will never suppress the spirit of the brave people of Burma," Blinken said in a statement, using Myanmar's former name.

US State Department spokesman Ned Price told a regular press briefing that there can be no "business as usual" with Myanmar's junta and that the US is considering further punitive measures. 

Price also said countries should stop the sale of military equipment to Myanmar. 

The European Union "strongly" condemned the "politically motivated executions," the bloc's foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said. He added that the move was bringing Myanmar toward "the complete dismantling of the rule of law." 

France said the killings were "a major regression" for the Myanmar's military regime.

"Even though no execution has taken place in the country for more than 30 years, these executions constitute a major regression and another phase in the escalating atrocities committed by the Burmese junta since the coup d'etat," a statement from the Foreign Ministry said.

Japanese Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi said the executions was a matter of deep concern and will further isolate Myanmar in the international community.

Hayashi added that the move by the country's junta will serve to deepen the conflict. Hayashi added that the executions go against Japan's continued calls to free detainees in Myanmar and to settle the conflict peacefully. 

HRW's Robertson said the "act by the military junta is to try and intimidate the Burmese people, that’s exactly what they're after. And it should not be allowed to succeed and its time for the international community to step up and do something."

lo,dvv,sdi/wmr (Reuters, AFP)

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