Myanmar military junta executes ex-MP and democracy activists

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Myanmar’s ruling military junta has executed four democracy activists, including a former politician and a veteran activist, in what is believed to be the first use of capital punishment in decades.

The four were accused of conspiring to commit “terror acts” and were sentenced to death in January in a closed-door trial that rights groups criticised as being unjust.

The executed prisoners were activist Ko Jimmy and lawmaker Phyo Zeya Thaw while the other lesser known two were Hla Myo Aung and Aung Thura Zaw.

Ko Jimmy, 53, was a veteran of the 88 Generation Students Group – a Burmese pro-democracy movement known for their activism against the country’s military junta in the 1988 student uprisings.

He, alongside his wife, fellow activist Nilar Thein, were considered some of the pioneers of the pro-democracy movement.

Phyo Zeya Thaw, 41, was a former hip-hop star turned NLD lawmaker.

His band Acid released Myanmar’s first ever hip-hop album, with his lyrics carrying thinly-veiled attacks on the military drawing the ire of the junta.

He gradually became a close ally of pro-democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi, and often accompanied her on her international meetings with world leaders.

Hla Myo Aung and Aung Thura Zawy were sentenced to death for killing a woman who was an alleged informer for the junta.

Pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi was very sad after hearing the news, a source told the BBC’s Burmese Service.

Ms. Suu Kyi, the leader of the National League for Democracy (NLD) party, did not make any comments, the source added. She was arrested in February 2021, following an army-led coup.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken condemned the executions in Myanmar, which is also known as Burma.

“Such reprehensible acts of violence and repression cannot be tolerated. We remain committed to the people of Burma and their efforts to restore Burma’s path to democracy,” he tweeted.

Family members of the deceased gathered at Insein prison on Monday desperate for information on their loved ones.

The mother of Zeya Thaw says she was not told when exactly her son would be executed, adding that she was unable to make proper traditional funeral plans as a result.

“When we met on Zoom last Friday, my son was healthy and smiling. He asked me to send his reading glasses, dictionary and some money to use in prison, so I brought those things to the prison today,” Khin Win May told the BBC’s Burmese Service. “That’s why I didn’t think they would kill him. I didn’t believe it.”

Meanwhile, the sister of Ko Jimmy – whose real name is Kyaw Min Yu – had earlier said they were yet to receive the bodies.

The families have all submitted applications for information on the executions.

State news outlet Global News Light of Myanmar said the four men were executed because they “gave directives, made arrangements and committed conspiracies for brutal and inhumane terror acts”.

It said they had been charged under the counter terrorism laws, but did not say when or how they were executed.

The executions are the first since 1988, according to the United Nations. Previous executions in Myanmar have been by hanging.

In 2021, the country’s military seized power, an event which triggered widespread demonstrations, prompting a military crackdown on pro-democracy protesters, activists and journalists.

News of the killing was met with intense criticism from opposition groups and human rights organisations.

“I am outraged and devastated at the news of the junta’s execution of Myanmar patriots and champions of human rights and democracy,” said UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Myanmar Tom Andrews. “These depraved acts must be a turning point for the international community.”

The shadow National Unity Government of Myanmar (NUG) said they were “extremely shocked and saddened” by the killings.

The NUG – a group which comprises pro-democracy figures, representatives of armed ethnic groups and former lawmakers that was formed in response to the 2021 military coup – urged the international community to “punish (the) murderous military junta for their cruelty and killings”. (Source: BBC)

 

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