The Washington Post

Condemning the cruelty

Even by the Myanmar junta’s standards, the carrying out of four executions is extreme.

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ON JUNE 10, the Myanmar military junta, known as the SAC, received a letter from the leader of a neighborin­g Southeast Asian nation, pleading with it to refrain from carrying out death sentences against four regime opponents. “With great concern and in an honest attempt to help Myanmar to achieve peace and national reconcilia­tion, I frankly request that Your Excellency and the SAC reconsider this sentence and avoid the use of the death penalty for all SAC antagonist­s,” Prime Minister Hun Sen of Cambodia wrote. He warned the Myanmar authoritie­s that they risked an internatio­nal backlash otherwise.

The plea was especially noteworthy coming from Hun Sen: Cambodia chairs the Associatio­n of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), and Hun Sen is no critic or enemy of the junta, having visited the country in January — the first head of government to make such a legitimacy-conferring gesture since the generals seized power in a February 2021 coup. In addition, Hun Sen is not exactly known for indulging dissent in his own country, which he has ruled with an iron fist for 37 years.

And yet, so determined is the junta to crush all opposition that it brushed aside this fellow dictator’s counsel and vowed to follow through on the death sentences, which were carried out, probably over the weekend — an announceme­nt Monday did not specify timing. Compoundin­g the inherent cruelty is the fact that relatives of the four men had been told Friday that they would be able to speak to them over Zoom for the first time in months — only to hear three days later that they had been killed without any such conversati­ons having taken place. Among those executed, the two most prominent were Phyo Zeya Thaw, a hiphop artist long active in the democracy movement — he served in parliament as a member of Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy — and longtime regime opponent Kyaw Min Yu, better known as Ko Jimmy. They were charged and tried by a military court under an anti-terrorism law. The other two put to death were Hla Myo Aung and Aung Thura Zaw, accused of murdering a woman they believed to be an informant for the regime. None of the four received a fair, public trial.

These are the first executions of any kind in Myanmar, also known as Burma, for more than 30 years. And the junta might only be getting started. Since the coup, 117 people have been sentenced to death, 76 of whom were in custody and 41 at large, according to the Assistance Associatio­n for Political Prisoners, a Myanmar nongovernm­ental organizati­on. The military regime has faced a national uprising, both armed and civil, since the coup and has not hesitated to kill as part of its counterins­urgency campaign. Still, the latest executions add to the already high level of terror. With Hun Sen having been rebuffed, ASEAN members face a special responsibi­lity to respond — with sanctions they have previously hesitated to impose. The United States and other democracie­s rightly condemned the executions; they have sanctions in place, but those can be toughened. Friendly persuasion, even from fellow autocrats, obviously does not work.

 ?? LU NGE KHIT/REUTERS ?? In an image taken from a video posted on social media, people protest in the wake of executions, in Yangon, Myanmar, on Monday.
LU NGE KHIT/REUTERS In an image taken from a video posted on social media, people protest in the wake of executions, in Yangon, Myanmar, on Monday.

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