By John Ikani
Myanmar’s military junta has executed four democracy activists accused of helping to carry out “terror acts,” it said on Monday, drawing widespread condemnation of the Southeast Asian nation’s first executions in decades.
Sentenced to death in January in a closed-door trial, the four men – including activist Ko Jimmy and lawmaker Phyo Zeya Thaw – had been accused of helping militias to fight the army that seized power in a coup last year and unleashed a bloody crackdown on its opponents.
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 Association 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 while the prison where the men had been held and the prison department refused comment.
News of the killing was met with intense criticism from opposition groups and human rights organizations.
“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”.
Myanmar’s military junta seized power in a coup in February 2021, ousting the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi, and has since unleashed a campaign of brutal violence to suppress opposition.
A total of 14,847 people have been arrested since the coup, while 11,759 remain in detention, according to the advocacy group Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP) Burma, which monitors arrests and killings.
According to AAPP Burma, 76 prisoners have been sentenced to death since the coup, including two children. A further 41 people have been sentenced to death in absentia. Before the executions on Monday, Myanmar had not carried out capital punishment in more than 30 years, according to the UN.