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Myanmar Junta to Carry Out First Judicial Executions in Decades


This combination photo created on June 3, 2022, shows undated handout photographs released by Myanmar's Military Information Team of democracy activist Kyaw Min Yu, left, also known as Ko Jimmy, and former lawmaker Phyo Zeya Thaw.
This combination photo created on June 3, 2022, shows undated handout photographs released by Myanmar's Military Information Team of democracy activist Kyaw Min Yu, left, also known as Ko Jimmy, and former lawmaker Phyo Zeya Thaw.

Myanmar's junta will execute a former lawmaker from Aung San Suu Kyi's party and a prominent democracy activist, both of whom were convicted of terrorism, in the country's first judicial executions since 1990, a spokesman told VOA’s Burmese Service on Friday.

Four people, including former Member of Parliament Phyo Zeya Thaw and democracy activist Kyaw Min Yu, better known as Ko Jimmy, were sentenced to death, said Major General Zaw Min Tun, the junta’s spokesperson.

Phyo Zeya Thaw, a member of Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy who was arrested in November, was sentenced to death in January for offenses under anti-terrorism laws.

Ko Jimmy, a prominent democracy activist, received the same sentence from the military tribunal.

“The final stage was to submit an appeal and it had to go through state leaders. We will proceed [with the execution] now that the head of the state upheld the ruling and this final process [of the appeal] is over,” Zaw Min Tun said.

“We will proceed according to prison procedure, and there’s a procedure for carrying out death sentence.”

Process assailed

Critics said the two men did not receive a fair trial.

“First of all, it’s not a fair trial because [they] lost their legal rights to defend at the military tribunal. [They] also lost their rights to legal counsel during the appeal process,” Min Lwin Oo, a Myanmar legal expert based in Norway, told VOA’s Burmese Service.

“Normally, the appeals process for death sentence takes up to three to five years through different courts and takes at least four to five years to go through state leaders. But such a fast-track process is unprecedented,” he added.

Two other men, who were convicted and sentenced to death for killing a woman they alleged was an informer for the junta in Yangon, will also be executed, said Zaw Min Tun, adding that no date had been set for the executions.

If the executions go ahead, Phyo Zeya Thaw and Ko Jimmy will be the first political dissidents to be executed in the country since the 1970s.

Under military dictator General Ne Win, Myanmar, which is also known as Burma, carried out two death sentences over political offenses: ethnic Chin student leader Salai Tin Maung Oo was hanged by Ne Win’s authoritarian regime at Yangon’s Insein Prison in 1976, and military Captain Ohn Kyaw Myint was executed in 1977.

Since last year’s coup, the military regime has handed down death sentences to 113 people for their roles in the armed resistance to the junta, according to VOA’s Burmese Service, but none of these sentences have been carried out.

A spokesperson for Amnesty International called on the junta to "immediately drop such plans and for the international community to step up its efforts to intervene."

The junta's decision to "move towards executing two prominent political leaders will be like pouring gasoline on the fire of popular anti-military resistance in the country," said Phil Robertson, a deputy director of U.S.-based Human Rights Watch.

"Such a move will also lead to global condemnation and cement the junta's reputation as among the worst of the worst human rights abusers in Asia."

'Deeply troubled'

At the United Nations on Friday, spokesman Stephane Dujarric said: “We are deeply troubled by the Myanmar military's decision to proceed with the execution of two pro-democracy activists after they received death sentences. This is a blatant violation of the right to life, liberty and security of person as per Article 3 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.”

Phyo Zeya Thaw had been accused of orchestrating several attacks on regime forces, including a gun attack on a commuter train in Yangon in August that killed five police officers.

A hip-hop pioneer whose subversive rhymes irked the previous junta, he was jailed in 2008 for membership in an illegal organization and possession of foreign currency.

He was elected to parliament in the 2015 elections, which ushered in a transition to civilian rule.

The country's military alleged voter fraud during elections in 2020, which the NLD won by a landslide, as justification for its coup on February 1, 2021.

Suu Kyi has been detained since then and faces a slew of charges in a junta court that could see her face a prison sentence of more than 150 years.

Ko Jimmy, who rose to prominence during Myanmar's 1988 student uprising against the country's previous military regime, was arrested in an overnight raid in October.

The junta issued an arrest warrant for him last year, alleging he had incited unrest with his social media posts.