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Death Sentences in Myanmar

Credit: Unsplash/Pyae Sone Htun

BRUSSELS, Jun 15 2022 (IPS) - “The illegal military junta provides further evidence to the international community of its disregard for human rights as it prepares to hang pro-democracy activists,” said Thomas Andrews and Morris Tidball-Binz, UN special rapporteurs in Myanmar for human rights and extrajudicial arbitrary executions, respectively on June 10, 2022.

“These death sentences, handed down by an illegal court of an illegal junta, are a vicious attempt to instill fear in the people of Myanmar.”

While at least 114 people have been sentenced to death (including two minors) since the coup of February 1, 2021, only 73 are actually in custody. The others are on the run or in hiding. The military junta announced last week that it will continue with four executions.

The four individuals were tried and convicted in military tribunals and reportedly had no access to legal assistance during their rejected appeals, in violation of international human rights law.

These are 53-year-old Ko Jimmy, also known as Kyaw Min Yu, the leader of the 88 Generation Student Group that stood up against the regime of former dictator Ne Win, and the ousted 40-year-old NLD MP Phyo Zayar Thaw. Phyo Zayar Thaw, a legislator for the National League for Democracy from 2012 to 2020, made a name for himself as a member of Acid, Myanmar’s first hip-hop band. Acid paved the way for other Myanmar hip-hop artists.

They were sentenced to death in January by a military tribunal along with two other anti-coup opponents on charges of treason and terrorism. The other two men are Hla Myo Aung and Aung Thura Zaw, who were convicted in April 2021 of killing a junta informant in Hlaing Tharyar municipality.

According to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, the military junta will not say where they have been holding Phyo Zayar Thaw and Ko Jimmy since their arrest. Their family fears that they have been severely tortured. If the lynchings continue, they will be Myanmar’s first judicial executions since 1988.

In a June 9 press release in the junta daily Global New Light of Myanmar, the junta defended its decision by stating that it “has every right to exercise all powers and authorities granted by the state constitution”.

Junta spokesman Major General Zaw Min Tun stated in two separate interviews with RFA Burmese that appeals against the death sentences have been completed and dismissed. So there is no more chance for leniency and “the execution will be carried out”.

Many foreign governments and organizations have condemned the decision. The spokesman for the UN Secretary-General, Stéphane Dujarric, said he was “deeply disturbed” by the decision and, referring to an article in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, called it a “blatant violation of the law on the life, liberty and security of the person”.

“The Secretary-General reiterates his call for respect for people’s rights to freedom of opinion and expression and also to drop all charges against those arrested on charges related to the exercise of their fundamental freedoms and rights,” Dujarric added.

The embassies of France and the United States condemned the announcement, as did the government of national unity NUG. Even Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen, who is this year’s deputy ASEAN chairman, has urged Myanmar’s military government not to carry out the planned executions of the four political prisoners, suggesting the move may further isolate the junta and raise further obstacles to restore peace.

Also Amnesty International called the news about the resumption of executions ‘shocking’. They called on authorities to “immediately” drop the plan and called on the international community to step up intervention efforts.

“The death sentence has become one of many horrific ways in which the Myanmar military is trying to instill fear among those who oppose its rule and would contribute to grave human rights violations, including deadly violence against peaceful protesters and other civilians,” the organisation stated.

The UN also stressed that the imposition of the death penalty took place alongside the military’s extrajudicial killings of civilians, now estimated at nearly 2,000.

Jan Servaes was UNESCO-Chair in Communication for Sustainable Social Change at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. He taught ‘international communication’ in Australia, Belgium, China, Hong Kong, the US, Netherlands and Thailand, in addition to short-term projects at about 120 universities in 55 countries. He is editor of the 2020 Handbook on Communication for Development and Social Change.

IPS UN Bureau


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