Myanmar executes former lawmaker and 3 other political prisoners

By DAVID RISING
Associated press

BANGKOK (AP) — Myanmar’s government confirmed on Monday that it had carried out its first executions in nearly 50 years, suspending a former lawmaker, a democracy activist and two other political prisoners who had been charged with murder. targeted after the military takeover of the country last year.

The executions, first reported in the official Mirror Daily, came despite calls for clemency from around the world for the four men, including experts from the United Nations and Cambodia, which holds the rotating presidency of the ‘Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

The four were executed “in accordance with legal process” for directing and organizing “violent and inhumane acts complicit in terrorist assassinations”, the newspaper reported. He did not specify when they were hanged.

The military government later issued a brief statement on the executions, while the prison where the men had been held and the corrections department declined to comment.

Aung Myo Min, human rights minister of the National Unity Government, a shadow civilian administration established outside Myanmar after the military seized power in February 2021, has dismissed claims that the men were involved in violence.

“Punishing them with death is a way of governing the public through fear,” he told The Associated Press.

Among those executed was Phyo Zeya Thaw, a former lawmaker for ousted leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy party. Also known as Maung Kyaw, he was convicted in January by a closed military court of charges of possessing explosives, bombing and financing terrorism.

His wife, Thazin Nyunt Aung, told the AP that the world must hold the military accountable for the executions. “They have to pay,” she said.

The United States Embassy in Myanmar said it mourned the loss of the four men and offered its condolences to their families while decrying the decision to execute them.

“We condemn the military regime’s execution of pro-democracy leaders and elected officials for exercising their fundamental freedoms,” the embassy said.

In China, a longtime Myanmar military ally, Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian declined to comment on the executions, saying Beijing “always abides by the principle of non-interference in internal affairs.” other countries”.

Phyo Zeya Thaw, 41, was arrested last November based on information from people detained for shooting at security guards, state media said at the time. He was also accused of being a key figure in a network that carried out what the army described as terrorist attacks in Yangon, the country’s largest city.

Phyo Zeya Thaw was a hip-hop musician before becoming a member of the Generation Wave political movement formed in 2007. He was imprisoned in 2008 under a previous military government after being charged with illegal association and possession of foreign currency.

Kyaw Min Yu, a 53-year-old democracy activist better known as Ko Jimmy, was also executed for violating the anti-terrorism law. He was one of the leaders of the Generation 88 group of students, veterans of a failed 1988 popular uprising against military rule.

He had already spent more than a dozen years behind bars for political activism before his arrest in Yangon last October. He had been put on a wanted list for social media posts allegedly inciting unrest, and state media said he was charged with terrorist acts, including mine attacks, and for leading a group called Moon Light Operation to carry out urban guerrilla attacks.

The other two, Hla Myo Aung and Aung Thura Zaw, were convicted of torturing and killing a woman in March 2021 whom they believed to be a military informant.

Elaine Pearson, Human Rights Watch’s acting Asia director, said the prosecution of the four had been “grossly unfair and politically motivated military trials”.

“The junta’s barbarity and its utter disregard for human life are intended to chill the anti-coup protest movement,” she said after the executions were announced.

Thomas Andrews, a UN-appointed independent human rights expert who condemned the decision to continue the executions when they were announced in June, called for a strong international response.

“I am outraged and devastated by the news of the execution by the junta of Myanmar patriots and defenders of human rights and decency,” he said in a statement. “These individuals were tried, convicted and sentenced by a military tribunal without the right of appeal and apparently without a lawyer, in violation of international human rights law.”

Myanmar’s foreign ministry dismissed the wave of criticism that followed its announcement in June, saying its justice system was fair and that Phyo Zeya Thaw and Kyaw Min Yu were “proven to be masterminds in orchestrating attacks.” large scale terrorists against innocent civilians to instill fear and disrupt peace and stability.

“They killed at least 50 people,” military spokesman Major General Zaw Min Tun told a televised press conference last month. He said the decision to hang the prisoners was in line with the rule of law and the aim was to prevent similar incidents from happening in the future.

The military takeover of the elected government of Suu Kyi sparked peaceful protests that quickly escalated into armed resistance and then widespread fighting that some UN experts are calling a civil war.

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

The last judicial execution to take place in Myanmar is widely believed to have been that 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 those on death row were commuted to life imprisonment, but several dozen convicts were sentenced to death between that date and the takeover last year.

The Political Prisoners Assistance Association, a nongovernmental organization that tracks killings and arrests, said Friday that 2,114 civilians have been killed by security forces since the military coup. He said another 115 people had been sentenced to death.