Myanmar carries out its first executions in decades, including prominent democracy activists

Myanmar carries out its first executions in decades, including prominent democracy activists
People protest in the wake of executions, in Yangon, Myanmar, July 25, 2022 this screen grab obtained from a social media video. Lu Nge Khit/via REUTERS

In February 2021, General Min Aung Hlaing and his junta, or group of military leaders, ousted the democratically elected government in Myanmar. Since then, General Hlaing has been condemned by the international community and received sanctions for the new government’s suppression of human rights and attacks involving ethnic minorities. He also declared a state of emergency, although he promised “free and fair" elections in the future. Human rights group Assistance Association of Political Prisoners says the regime has killed more than 2,100 people since taking power.

On Monday, Myanmar announced its first executions since 1988. This act, condemned as “depraved" by the UN, is the latest in the government’s actions to suppress its opposition. The four individuals executed were pro-democracy activists. The state news outlet said the four “gave directives, made arrangements and committed conspiracies for brutal and inhumane terror acts," and they were sentenced to death in a closed-door trial. It is unclear when these executions took place exactly. Among the executed were activist Ko Jimmy and former lawmaker Phyo Zeya Thaw. When the sentences were announced in June, the UN, Cambodia and human rights groups pleaded for clemency on the prisoners’ behalf.

The families of those executed say they were not notified that these executions had been carried out. Human rights leaders – like the acting Asia director of Human Rights Watch, Elaine Pearson – have claimed a lack of justice and political motivations behind the imprisonment and executions. Since the military seized control, Amnesty International has recorded an “alarming" increase in the number of death sentences in the country.

Key comments:

“I am outraged and devastated at the news of the junta’s execution of Myanmar patriots and champions of human rights and decency," said Thomas Andrews, an independent UN-appointed expert on human rights, in a statement. “These individuals were tried, convicted and sentenced by a military tribunal without the right of appeal and reportedly without legal counsel, in violation of international human rights law."

“The death sentence has become one of many appalling ways the Myanmar military is attempting to sow fear among anyone who opposes its rule, and would add to the grave human rights violations, including lethal violence targeted at peaceful protesters and other civilians," Amnesty International tweeted in June.

Myanmar’s Foreign Ministry asserted that the executed individuals were “proven to be masterminds of orchestrating full-scale terrorist attacks against innocent civilians to instill fear and disrupt peace and stability."

“[…] Relevant military tribunals charged them for their cases under relevant sections of the Counter-Terrorism law and the Penal Code and handed down the death sentence each to those four culprits. According to the relevant department, the punishment has been conducted under the prison’s procedures," Myanmar state media reported.