Four democracy activists have been executed by Myanmar’s military junta, in the country’s first use of capital punishment in decades.
A former politician from Aung San Suu Kyi’s party and a prominent activist were among those executed.
The executions have sparked widespread condemnation – including from the US and France – and heightened fears that more death sentences will follow.
There are now calls for the international community to take sterner measures against the already-isolated junta.
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The four were executed for leading “brutal and inhumane terror acts”, the Global New Light of Myanmar newspaper said, without saying when or how the men were killed.
The junta has sentenced dozens of anti-coup activists to death as part of its crackdown on dissent after seizing power last year, but Myanmar had not carried out an execution for decades.
Phyo Zeya Thaw, a former politician from Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) who was arrested in November, was sentenced to death in January for offences under anti-terrorism laws.
Democracy activist Kyaw Min Yu – also known as “Jimmy” – received the same sentence from the military tribunal.
The executions were slammed as “beyond shocking” by Peter Yates from international development organisation The Asia Foundation.
Mr Yates posted a photo of Phyo Zeya Thaw meeting Julia Gillard, writing that the Australian government had supported him “as a newly elected MP, bringing him to Australia and providing him with training”.
Family members of the two men gathered outside Yangon’s Insein Prison after news of the executions was published, in the hope of retrieving their bodies, local media reported.
The two other men were sentenced to death for killing a woman they alleged was an informer for the junta in Yangon.
The NLD, which won the 2020 elections by a landslide before being ousted by the military months later, said it was “devastated” by the news.
Responding to media inquiries on reports of the executions, a junta statement said “it is as stated in the state media”.
‘Reprehensible acts of violence’
The executions drew condemnation from the US, as Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who met activists from Myanmar in Bangkok earlier this month, voiced confidence the killings would not hinder the country’s movement for democracy.
“These reprehensible acts of violence further exemplify the regime’s complete disregard for human rights and the rule of law,” Mr Blinken said in a statement.
“The regime’s sham trials and these executions are blatant attempts to extinguish democracy; these actions will never suppress the spirit of the brave people of Burma,” he said, using Myanmar’s former name.
Japan’s government, a major provider of economic assistance to Myanmar, said it “seriously deplores” the executions.
And the European Union’s Josep Borrell said the bloc “strongly condemns” the killings.
“These politically motivated executions represent yet another step towards the complete dismantling of the rule of law and a further blatant violation of human rights in Myanmar,” he said in a statement.
Myanmar expert Richard Horsey of the International Crisis Group (ICG) said on Twitter that the executions were “an outrageous act”.
“And one that will create political shockwaves, now and for a long time to come.”
The United Nations’ special rapporteur on Myanmar Tom Andrews said the “depraved acts must be a turning point”.
“What more must the junta do before the international community is willing to take strong action?” he said.
Around 100 people on death row
According to Amnesty International, around 100 other people are currently on death row after being convicted in junta courts.
But Phyo Zeya Thaw and Kyaw Min Yu were among the most prominent. A hip-hop pioneer whose subversive rhymes irked the previous junta, Phyo Zeya Thaw was jailed in 2008 for membership of an illegal organisation and possession of foreign currency.
He was elected to parliament representing the NLD in the 2015 elections, which ushered in a transition to civilian rule.
The junta accused him of orchestrating several attacks on regime forces, including a gun attack on a commuter train in Yangon in August that killed five police officers.
Kyaw Min Yu rose to prominence during Myanmar’s 1988 student uprising against the country’s previous military regime, and had spent more than a dozen years in and out of prison under the previous junta for his pro-democracy activism.
The 53-year-old was arrested in an overnight raid in October. The country’s military alleged voter fraud during the 2020 elections as justification for its coup on February 1 last year.
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.
The Nobel laureate, 77, learned of the executions at her latest hearing on Monday, a source with knowledge of the matter said.
She did not comment on the news but “looked sad”.
– with AFP
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