Myanmar’s military junta has executed four pro-democracy activists accused of facilitating “acts of terrorism,” she said on Monday, sparking widespread condemnation of the Southeast Asian nation’s first executions in decades.
Sentenced to death in closed trials in January and April, the four men were accused of helping rebels fight an army that seized power in last year’s coup and unleashed a bloody crackdown on their opponents.
The Myanmar National Unity Government (NUG), a shadowy administration banned by the ruling junta, condemned the executions and called for international action against the ruling military.
“Extremely saddened… I condemn the brutality of the junta,” Zhuo Zau, a spokesman for the NUG President’s Office, told Reuters. “The world community must punish their brutality.”
Among those executed were pro-democracy activist Kyaw Min Yu, better known as Jimmy, and former MP and hip-hop artist Fio Zeya Tou, according to the Global New Light of Myanmar newspaper.
Phyo Zeya Thaw, pictured here in 2015, was among the four men executed. Source: A MONKEY / Aung Shine Oo/AP
Kyaw Min Yu, 53, and Pyo Zeya Tou, a 41-year-old associate of ousted leader Aung San Suu Kyi, lost their appeals against their sentences in June. The other two executed were Hla Myo Aung and Aung Tura Zau.
“These executions amount to arbitrary deprivation of life and are another example of a horrendous violation of human rights in Myanmar,” said Erwin Van Der Borcht, regional director of human rights organization Amnesty International.
“Four men were convicted by a military court in very secret and highly unfair trials. The international community must act immediately as more than 100 people are believed to be on death row after being convicted in similar proceedings.”
Tazin Nyunt Aung, wife of Fio Zeyyar Thaw, said she was not informed of her husband’s execution. Other relatives could not be contacted for comment.
The men were being held at colonial-era Insein Prison, and a person with knowledge of the events said their families visited last Friday. According to the source, only one relative was allowed to talk to the detainees through the online platform.
State media reported the executions on Monday, with junta spokesman Zo Min Tun later confirming the verdict to the Voice of Myanmar. None of them gave details of the timing.
Previous executions in Myanmar were carried out by hanging.
An activist group, the Association for Assistance to Political Prisoners (AAPP), said that the last judicial executions in Myanmar took place in the late 1980s.
Last month, junta spokesman Zo Ming Tun defended the death penalty, saying it was justified and practiced in many countries.
Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen, chairman of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), in June called on junta leader Min Aung Hlaing to stop executions, expressing the deep concern of Myanmar’s neighbors.
“Even the former military regime, which ruled from 1988 to 2011, did not dare to execute political prisoners,” said Malaysian MP Charles Santiago, chairman of ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights.
“This marks another increase in the brutality of the junta, which is due to a sense of impunity, largely caused by the inability of the world community to do anything effective to prevent further atrocities.”
Japanese Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi said the executions, which run counter to Japan’s repeated calls for a peace settlement as well as its demands for the release of prisoners, would further isolate Myanmar.
Myanmar has been in chaos since last year’s coup, with conflict spreading across the country after the army cracked down on mostly peaceful urban protests.
More than 2,100 people have been killed by security forces since the coup, according to AAPP. The junta says this figure is exaggerated.
The true picture of the violence has been difficult to gauge as clashes have spread to more remote areas where ethnic minority rebel groups are also fighting the military.
The executions dashed hopes for any peace deal, said the Arakan Army (AA), the main ethnic militias in Myanmar’s troubled Rakhine state.
“This act nullified the efforts of ASEAN members to achieve peace and reconciliation,” the AA said in a statement, adding that the executions would only attract “braverer heroes in the future and promote the spring revolution.”
Last Friday, the World Court dismissed Myanmar’s objections in a genocide case over its treatment of the predominantly Muslim Rohingya minority, paving the way for a full hearing.
The latest executions are wiping out any chance of ending the unrest in Myanmar, said analyst Richard Horsey of the International CRISIS group.
“This regime demonstrates that it will do what it wants and not listen to anyone,” Horsey told Reuters. “He sees it as a show of strength, but it could be a serious miscalculation.”