Myanmar executes former lawmaker and three other political prisoners

BANGKOK – Myanmar’s government confirmed on Monday that it had carried out its first executions in nearly 50 years, hanging a former lawmaker, a democracy activist and two other political prisoners who were accused of targeted killing after the country’s military takeover last year.

The executions, first reported in the state-run Mirror Daily newspaper, came despite global pleas for clemency for the four men, including from UN experts and Cambodia, which holds the rotating chairmanship of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

Swift condemnations followed.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres strongly condemned the executions, which marked “a further deterioration of Myanmar’s already appalling human rights record,” UN deputy spokesman Farhan Haq said, underscoring the UN chief’s opposition to the death penalty.


“The Secretary-General reiterates his call for the immediate release of all arbitrarily detained prisoners, including President Win Myint and State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi,” Hak said.

UN human rights chief Michelle Bachelet said she was alarmed by “this cruel and regressive step.” She added: “Expanding the military’s killings will only deepen its entanglement in a crisis of its own making.”

According to the newspaper, the four were executed “in accordance with legal procedures” for directing and organizing “violent and inhuman complicit acts of terrorist murder.” It does not say when they were hanged.

The military government later issued a brief statement on the executions, while the prison where the men were held and the prison department declined to comment.

Aung Myo Min, human rights minister under the government of national unity, a civilian shadow administration set up 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 society through fear,” he told The Associated Press.

Among those executed was Phyo Zeya Tau, a former lawmaker from ousted leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy party. Also known as Maung Kyaw, he was convicted in January by a closed military court of crimes including possession of explosives, bombings and financing terrorism.

His wife Tazin Nyunt Aung told the AP that the world should hold the military accountable for the executions. “They have to pay,” she said.

The European Union, Australia, Japan, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and the United States issued a joint statement condemning the executions. “The executions of pro-democracy and opposition leaders by the military regime in Myanmar are reprehensible acts of violence that further illustrate the regime’s disregard for human rights and the rule of law,” they said.

In China, a longtime ally of Myanmar’s military, Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian declined to comment on the executions, saying Beijing “always upholds the principle of non-interference in the internal affairs of other countries.”


Phyo Zeya Thaw, 41, was arrested last November based on information from people detained for shooting at security personnel, state media said at the time. He was accused of being a key figure in a network that carried out what the military described as terrorist attacks in Yangon, the country’s largest city.

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

Kyaw Min Yu, a 53-year-old democracy activist better known as Ko Jimmy, was also executed for violating the anti-terrorism law. He was one of the leaders of the Generation 88 Student Group, veterans of a failed 1988 popular uprising against military rule.

He had already spent more than a dozen years behind bars for political activism before his arrest in Yangon last October. He was wanted for social media posts allegedly inciting riots, and state media said he was accused of terrorist acts, including mine attacks, and that he led a group called Moon Light Operation to carry out of urban guerrilla attacks.


The other two, Hla Myo Aung and Aung Thura Zaw, were convicted of torturing and killing a woman in March 2021 who was allegedly a military informant.

Elaine Pearson, acting Asia director of Human Rights Watch, called the military trials of the four politically motivated. “The junta’s barbarism and callous disregard for human life is intended to chill the anti-coup protest movement,” she said.

Thomas Andrews, an independent human rights expert appointed by the United Nations, called for a strong international response.

“I am outraged and devastated by the news of the execution of Myanmar patriots and defenders of human rights and decency by the junta,” he said in a statement. “These individuals were tried, convicted and sentenced by a military tribunal with no right of appeal and reportedly without a lawyer, in violation of international human rights law.”

Myanmar’s foreign ministry dismissed the wave of criticism that followed its announcement in June, saying its justice system was fair and that Phyo Zeya Thaw and Kyaw Min Yu had been “proven to be masterminds of orchestrating full-scale terrorist attacks against innocent civilians , to instill fear and disturb peace and stability.”


“They killed at least 50 people,” military spokesman Major General Zaw Min Tun said at a televised press conference last month. He said the decision to hang the prisoners was in accordance with the rule of law and the aim was to prevent similar incidents in the future.

The military’s takeover of Suu Kyi’s elected government sparked peaceful protests that soon escalated into armed resistance and then widespread fighting that some UN experts characterized as a civil war.

Some resistance groups have been involved in assassinations, drive-by shootings and bombings in urban areas. Mainstream opposition organizations generally disavow such activities, while supporting armed resistance in rural areas, which are more often the target of brutal military attacks.

The last judicial execution carried out in Myanmar is believed to be of another political criminal, student leader Salai Tin Maung Oo, in 1976 under a previous military government led by dictator Ne Win.


In 2014, death row inmates had their sentences commuted to life in prison, but several dozen inmates received death sentences between then and last year’s takeover.

The Association for the Relief of Political Prisoners, an NGO that tracks killings and arrests, said on Friday that 2,114 civilians had been killed by security forces since the military takeover. It said another 115 people were sentenced to death.

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Myanmar executes former lawmaker and three other political prisoners

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