Los Angeles Times

4 in Myanmar are the first to be executed in years

Political prisoners are hanged despite global pleas for clemency.

- By David Rising

BANGKOK — Myanmar’s government announced Monday that it had carried out its first executions in nearly 50 years, hanging a former National League for Democracy lawmaker, a democracy activist and two men accused of violence after the country’s takeover by the military last year.

The executions, detailed in the state-run Mirror Daily newspaper, were carried out despite worldwide pleas for clemency for the four political prisoners, including from United Nations experts and Cambodia, which holds the rotating chairmansh­ip of the Assn. of Southeast Asian Nations.

The four were executed “in accordance with legal procedures” for directing and organizing “violent and inhuman accomplice acts of terrorist killings,” the newspaper reported. It did not say when the executions were carried out.

The military government issued a brief statement confirming the report, and the prison where the men had been held and the prison department refused comment.

Aung Myo Min, human rights minister for the selfstyled National Unity Government, a shadow civilian administra­tion establishe­d outside Myanmar after the military seized power in February 2021, rejected allegation­s that the men were involved in violence.

“Punishing them with death is a way to rule the public through fear,” he told the Associated Press.

Among those executed was Phyo Zeya Thaw, a former lawmaker from ousted leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s party. Also known as Maung Kyaw, he was convicted in January by a closed military court of offenses involving explosives, bombings and terrorism financing.

His wife, Thazin Nyunt Aung, told the AP she had not been informed that his execution had been carried out. “I am still trying to confirm it myself,” she said.

The 41-year-old had been arrested in November based on informatio­n from people detained for shooting security personnel, state media said. He was also accused of being a key figure in a network that carried out what the military described as terrorist attacks in Yangon, the country’s biggest city.

Phyo Zeya Thaw had been a hip-hop musician before joining the Generation Wave political movement formed in 2007. He was jailed in 2008 under a previous military government after being accused of illegal associatio­n and possession of foreign currency.

Also executed was democracy activist Kyaw Min Yu, 53, for violating the counterter­rorism law. Better known as Ko Jimmy, he was a leader of the 88 Generation Students Group, veterans of a failed 1988 popular uprising.

He already had spent more than a dozen years behind bars for political activism before his arrest in Yangon in October. He had been put on a wanted list for social media postings that allegedly incited unrest, and state media said he was accused of engaging in terrorist acts including mine attacks and of heading a group called Moon Light Operation to carry out urban guerrilla attacks.

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

Elaine Pearson, acting Asia director of Human Rights Watch, said the legal proceeding­s against the four had been “grossly unjust and politicall­y motivated military trials.”

“The junta’s barbarity and callous disregard for human life aims to chill the anti-coup protest movement,” she said after the announceme­nt of the executions.

Thomas Andrews, an independen­t United Nations appointed expert on human rights who had condemned the decision to proceed with the executions when they were announced in June, called for a strong internatio­nal response.

“I am outraged and devastated at the news of the junta’s execution of Myanmar patriots and champions of human rights and decency,” he said 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.”

Myanmar’s Foreign Ministry had rejected the wave of criticism that followed its announceme­nt in June, declaring that the nation’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.”

“They killed at least 50 people,” Maj. Gen. Zaw Min Tun, a military spokespers­on, said last month. He said the decision to hang all four prisoners conformed with the rule of law.

The military’s seizure of power triggered peaceful protests that escalated to widespread fighting.

The country’s last judicial execution is believed to have been of another political offender, student leader Salai Tin Maung Oo, in 1976.

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