Myanmar junta executes democracy activists, the first such killings in decades

Thazin Nyunt Aung, the wife of Phyo Zeyar Thaw, said she had not been told of her husband’s execution. Other relatives could not immediately be reached for comment.

“My heart goes out to their families, friends and loved ones and indeed all the people in Myanmar who are victims of the junta’s escalating atrocities,” the UN special rapporteur on human rights in Myanmar, Tom Andrews, said in a statement.

The men had been held in the colonial-era Insein prison and a person with knowledge of the events said their families visited it last Friday. Only one relative was allowed to speak to the detainees via the Zoom online platform, the source added.

Myanmar’s state media reported the executions on Monday and junta spokesman Zaw Min Tun later confirmed the executions to the Voice of Myanmar. Neither gave details of timing.

Previous executions in Myanmar have been by hanging.

An activist group, the Assistance Association of Political Prisoners, said Myanmar’s last judicial executions were in the late 1980s.

International condemnation

Last month military spokesman Zaw Min Tun defended the death penalty, saying it was used in many countries.

“At least 50 innocent civilians, excluding security forces, died because of them,” he told a televised news conference.

“How can you say this is not justice?” he asked. “Required actions are needed to be done in the required moments.”

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Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen, chair of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), appealed in a letter in June to junta leader Min Aung Hlaing not to carry out the executions, relaying deep concern among Myanmar’s neighbours.

“Not even the previous military regime, which ruled between 1988 and 2011, dared to carry out the death penalty against political prisoners,” said Malaysian MP Charles Santiago, the chair of the ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights.

“This means yet another increase in the junta’s brutality, which comes from a sense of impunity largely fostered by the failure of the global community to do anything effective to prevent it from committing further atrocities.”

Japanese Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi said the executions, which go against Japan’s repeated urging for a peaceful resolution as well as its demands to free detainees, would further isolate Myanmar in the international community.

The move would sharpen national sentiment and deepen conflict, he added in a statement.

Myanmar’s ruling junta has condemned foreign statements about the execution orders as “reckless and interfering”.

Myanmar has been in chaos since last year’s coup, with conflict spreading nationwide after the army crushed mostly peaceful protests in cities.

“For more than a year now, Myanmar’s military authorities have engaged in extrajudicial killings, torture and a whole gamut of human rights violations,” Van Der Borght added.

“The military will only continue to trample on people’s lives if they are not held accountable.”

The Assistance Association of Political Prisoners says more than 2100 people have been killed by the security forces since the coup, but the junta says the figure is exaggerated.

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The true picture of violence has been hard to assess as clashes have spread to more remote areas where ethnic minority insurgent groups are also fighting the military.

The latest executions close off any chance of ending the unrest, said Myanmar analyst Richard Horsey, of the International CRISIS group.

“Any possibility of dialogue to end the crisis created by the coup has now been removed,” Horsey told Reuters.

“This is the regime demonstrating that it will do what it wants and listen to no one. It sees this as a demonstration of strength, but it may be a serious miscalculation.”

New York-based Human Rights Watch said the executions aimed to chill the anti-coup protest movement.

“European Union member states, the United States, and other governments should show the junta that there will be a reckoning for its crimes,” said Elaine Pearson, the group’s Asia director.

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

Reuters

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