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Myanmar junta executes democracy activists amid international outcry

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By Euronews  with AP
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FILE - Two political prisoners executed in Myanmar
FILE - Two political prisoners executed in Myanmar   -   Copyright  AFP PHOTO/MYANMAR’S MILITARY INFORMATION TEAM

Myanmar ruling junta has carried out its first executions in nearly 50 years with the hangings of a former National League for Democracy lawmaker, a democracy activist and two men accused of violence after the country's military takeover last year.

The executions announced Monday were carried out despite worldwide pleas for clemency for the four political detainees.

The Mirror Daily state newspaper said the four planned, directed and organized "the violent and inhuman accomplice acts of terrorist killings.”

The paper said they were hanged according to prison procedures but did not say when the executions occurred.

Phyo Zeya Thaw was a 41-year-old former lawmaker from ousted leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s party, and had been a hip-hop musician before becoming a member of the Generation Wave political movement formed in 2007. 

Kyaw Min Yu was a 53-year-old democracy activist and one of the leaders of the 88 Generation Students Group, veterans of a failed 1988 popular uprising against military rule. He already had spent more than a dozen years behind bars for political activism before his arrest in Yangon last October. 

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

Aung Shine Oo / The Associated Press
FILE - Phyo Zeya Thaw arrives at the Myanmar parliament in Naypyitaw, Myanmar, on Aug. 19, 2015.Aung Shine Oo / The Associated Press

Condemnation from international community and human rights groups

Western governments, rights groups and United Nations experts strongly criticised the decision to hang the men. 

“The illegitimate military junta is providing the international community with further evidence of its disregard for human rights as it prepares to hang pro-democracy activists,” two UN experts, Thomas Andrews, special rapporteur on human rights in Myanmar, and Morris Tidball-Binz, special rapporteur on extrajudicial summary or arbitrary executions, said earlier.

The US Embassy in Yangon also issued a statement saying the "condemn the military regime's execution of pro-democracy leaders and elected officials for exercising their fundamental freedoms." 

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen had earlier urged Myanmar to reconsider and suggested their executions would draw strong condemnation and complicate efforts to restore peace.

Hun Sen has a special interest in Myanmar because Cambodia this year chairs the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations, which has sought to end the violence in Myanmar and provide humanitarian assistance. Myanmar is a member of ASEAN but has failed to cooperate with the bloc's plans.

Myanmar’s Foreign Ministry rejected criticism of the decision to proceed with the executions, declaring that Myanmar's judicial system is fair and that Phyo Zeya Thaw and Kyaw Min Yu were “proven to be masterminds of orchestrating full-scale terrorist attacks against innocent civilians to instill fear and disrupt peace and stability.”

Myanmar's latest military coup explained

Myanmar’s military seized power from Suu Kyi’s elected government in February 2021, triggering peaceful protests that soon escalated to armed resistance and then to widespread fighting that some UN experts characterize as a civil war.

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

According to Myanmar law, executions must be approved by the head of the government. 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.

The Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, a non-governmental organization that tracks killing and arrests, said Friday that 2,114 civilians have been killed by security forces since the military takeover. It said 115 other people had been sentenced to death.