Myanmar says it will carry out first executions in decades

Jun 2, 2022, 9:15 PM | Updated: Jun 3, 2022, 12:16 pm

BANGKOK (AP) — Myanmar’s military-installed government announced Friday that it will execute a former lawmaker from ousted leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s party and a veteran pro-democracy activist convicted of violating the country’s Counter-Terrorism Law, local media reported Friday.

Two online news outlets, Voice of Myanmar and NP News, said two other men convicted of killing a woman they believed was an informer for the military will also be executed, in addition to former lawmaker Phyo Zeya Thaw and activist Kyaw Min Yu, also known as Ko Jimmy.

Government spokesperson Maj. Gen. Zaw Min Tun was cited as saying the decision to carry out the hangings was confirmed after legal appeals by the four were rejected.

He was cited as saying the executions will go ahead in accordance with prison procedures. According to the law, executions must be approved by the head of the government. He did not say when the executions would be carried out.

The United Nations, which has advocated against the death penalty, called the Myanmar military’s decision to execute the two pro-democracy activists “a blatant violation” of the right to life, liberty and security guaranteed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said Secretary-General Antonio Guterres reiterates his calls for all charges to be dropped against those arrested for exercising their fundamental freedoms and rights and for all political prisoners in Myanmar to be released immediately.

The U.N. chief also calls for people’s rights to freedom of opinion and expression to be respected, and stresses that “the Universal Declaration of Human Rights enshrines the principles of equality before the law, the presumption of innocence, the right to a fair and public hearing by an independent and impartial tribunal, and all of the guarantees necessary for a person’s defense,”  Dujarric said.

The Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, which tracks arrests and state-conducted killings, says Myanmar courts have handed down death sentences to 114 political offenders, including two children, since the army seized power from Suu Kyi’s elected government in February last year.

Last year’s army takeover triggered nationwide popular protests, which turned into a low-level insurgency after nonviolent demonstrations were met with deadly force by the security forces. The Assistance Association estimates that 1,887 civilians have died at the hands of police and the military in crackdowns against opponents of military rule.

Some resistance groups have engaged in assassinations, drive-by shootings and bombings in urban areas. The mainstream opposition organizations generally disavow such activities, while supporting armed resistance in rural areas, which are more often subject to brutal military attacks.

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

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.

Phyo Zeya Thaw, the former lawmaker, also known as Maung Kyaw, and Kyaw Min Yu were given death sentences under the country’s Counterterrorism Law in January this year by a closed military court. They were found guilty of offenses involving explosives, bombings and financing terrorism.

Phyo Zeya Thaw had been a hip-hop musician before becoming as a member of Generation Wave, a political movement formed in 2007.

He was arrested last November on a charge of possessing weapons and ammunition, according to a report in a state-run newspaper at the time. It said he was arrested on the basis of information from people detained a day earlier for shooting security personnel.

Other statements from the military accused him of being a key figure in a network of dozens of people who allegedly carried out what the military described as “terrorist” attacks in Yangon, the country’s biggest city.

He previously was jailed in 2008 under another military government after being accused of illegal association and possession of foreign currency.

Kyaw Min Yu is one of the leaders of the 88 Generation Students Group, veterans of a failed 1988 popular uprising against military rule.

He has been active politically since then, and spent more than a dozen years behind bars. He was arrested in Yangon last October.

The state-run media said Kyaw Min Yu has been accused of “conducting terrorism acts including mine attacks to undermine the state stability” and of heading a group called “Moon Light Operation” to carry out urban guerrilla attacks.

He had been put on a wanted list for social media postings that allegedly incited unrest.

The other two men sentenced to die, Hla Myo Aung and Aung Thura Zaw, were convicted in April last year of allegedly torturing and killing a woman in Yangon. They targeted her as an alleged military informer and killed her in March 2021, according to an April 2021 statement from the Office of the Commander-in-Chief of Defense Services.

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Myanmar says it will carry out first executions in decades