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Myanmar Executes Four Democracy Activists

Phyo Zeya Thaw visited Australia in 2012 to complete a political advisers’ course. Photograph: EPA

Four democracy activists have been executed by Myanmar’s military junta in what is believed to be the first use of capital punishment in decades.

The four – including activist Ko Jimmy and lawmaker Phyo Zeya Thaw – were accused of committing “terror acts”.

They were sentenced to death in a closed-door trial that rights groups criticised as being unjust.

Their deaths mark the first judicial executions in the country in decades, and human rights groups fear more will follow. According to Human Rights Watch, 114 people have been sentenced to death in Myanmar since the military seized power in a coup in February 2021.

The mother of Zayar 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.”

Ko Jimmy and Phyo Zayar Thaw were accused by the military of being “involved in terrorist acts such as explosion attacks, killing of civilians as informants,” junta spokesperson Zaw Min Tun previously told CNN. They were sentenced to death in January 2022, and last month Zaw Min Tun confirmed their appeals had been denied.

Civilian cases have been tried in military courts with proceedings closed to the public since the military seized power last year, ousting the elected government and reversing almost a decade of tentative democratic reforms.

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”.

 

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