Myanmar’s junta executed four prisoners, including former party MP Aung San Suu Kyi and a prominent activist, state media reported on Monday, marking the country’s first use of the death penalty in decades.
All four were executed for leading “cruel and inhuman acts of terrorism,” the Global New Light of Myanmar reported.
The paper said the executions were carried out “in accordance with prison procedure”, but did not say when or how the men were killed.
The junta has sentenced dozens of anti-coup activists to death as part of a crackdown on dissent since seizing power last year, but Myanmar did not carry out executions for decades.
Phyo Zeya Tou, former National League for Democracy (NLD) MP Suu Kyi, who was arrested in November, was sentenced to death in January for crimes under anti-terrorism laws.
Democratic activist Kyaw Min Yu, better known as “Jimmy”, received the same sentence from a military tribunal.
Relatives of the two men gathered outside Yangon’s Insein prison after news of the executions were released, hoping to find their bodies, local media reported.
Two other men were sentenced to death for killing a woman they claimed was an informant for the junta in Yangon.
Human Rights Watch said the executions were “an act of extreme cruelty”.
Amnesty International said it was a “brutal escalation of government repression” and warned that around 100 people are currently on death row after being convicted by the junta’s courts.
The junta came under fire from international powers last month when it announced its intention to carry out executions.
Secretary General of the United Nations António Guterres condemned the junta’s decision, calling it “a flagrant violation of the right to life, liberty and security of person.”
UN human rights experts have said that if executions continue – for the first time in Myanmar since 1988 – it could be the beginning of a wave of hangings.
The experts said that under the junta’s martial law provisions, the death penalty could be imposed for 23 “vague and broadly defined crimes” which, in practice, could include any criticism of the military.
Myanmar expert Richard Horsey of the International Crisis Group (ICG) said on Twitter that the executions were an “outrageous act”. And one that will cause political shock now and in the future.”
Phyo Zeya Thaw has been accused of orchestrating several attacks on regime forces, including a shooting at a commuter train in Yangon in August that killed five police officers.
A hip-hop pioneer whose subversive rhymes irritated the previous junta, he was imprisoned in 2008 for membership in an illegal organization and possession of foreign currency.
He was elected to the NLD Parliament by Aung San Suu Kyi in the 2015 elections that initiated the transition to civilian rule.
Military countries have claimed fraudulent elections in 2020, which the NLD won by a landslide, as justification for a coup on February 1 last year.
Suu Kyi has been in custody ever since and faces multiple charges in the junta court that could land her in prison for more than 150 years.
Kyaw Min Yu, who rose to prominence during Myanmar’s 1988 student uprising against the country’s former military regime, was arrested during a night raid in October.