For the first time since their arrests in August and November last year respectively, ‘88 Generation student leader and pro-democracy veteran Ko Jimmy and former National League for Democracy lawmaker Ko Phyo Zeya Thaw were allowed to speak to relatives through video conferencing at Insein Prison in Yangon last Friday.
They did not know it would be their last meeting. They happily greeted their long-time separated loved ones and asked what to bring next time.
Ko Phyo Zeya Thaw, 41, asked his mother to bring books, including English dictionaries, novels and reading glasses.
But he will never receive them. In less than 24 hours, the two were taken to the gallows without notification and hanged.
The two prominent activists, both of whom were popular with the public for their democratic activism, were arrested in August and November last year and sentenced to death in January by a closed military tribunal for their resistance to the regime.
Ko Jimmy, 53, is survived by a 15-year-old daughter and his wife, Ma Nilar Thein, who was herself an 88 Generation Student leader. Ma Nilar Thein is in hiding.
Two other activists who were hanged at the weekend, were Ko Hla Myo Aung, 41, and Ko Aung Thura Zaw, 27. Both from Yangon’s Hlaing Tharyar Township were executed for killing a woman accused of being a junta informant.
The families were told to keep a low profile and not to hold public funerals, according to sources.
On Wednesday, the homes of Ko Jimmy and Ko Phyo Zeya Thaw were attacked by pro-regime thugs who denounced the two men for their anti-junta activities.
Below family members of the activists, who are regarded by the public as heroes in the struggle for democracy, tell The Irrawaddy how they found out about the deaths, their last meetings and their response to the hangings.
Daw Khin Win May, mother of Ko Phyo Zeya Thaw
Dr. Khin Win May said she was allowed to see her son for the first time since his arrest in November last year on Friday evening through video conferencing but only for 20 minutes.
“It was our first meeting but I didn’t know that it was our last too. He asked me to bring books, dictionaries and reading glasses next time. I told him that I could not bring those books from our home as it has been sealed off and that I would buy them. He said he was in good health and told us to take care.”
The prison authorities then read out details about when he was arrested and sentenced and that appeals were rejected in February and May and the sentence would be carried out, she said.
Dr. Khin Win May was told she would be alerted before the execution.
On Monday, she was planning to go to Insein Prison to give her son money when she heard about the execution.
She asked the time of the execution so she could perform a Buddhist funeral ritual for him. The prison authorities only told her to look in the newspapers. His body or ashes were denied her.
“I don’t blame my son for what he did. He did it with good intentions and I am proud of him that he sacrificed his life for the country. We will do good deeds for him so that he can have better existence in the next life.”
Thazin Nyunt Aung, wife of Ko Phyo Zeya Thaw
I complained that they should have alerted us about the execution and we had a right to know. And we want the bodies back. But they refused to return his body even though his mother pleaded. We were only allowed to see him on Friday, eight months after his arrest. And they announced executions on Monday. I ask the international community, ASEAN and all foreign embassies what they would do in response. I want to know that. It is the worst form of human rights violation.
They will have to pay for their wicked crimes. We will have to move on alone. This incident is awful but it must not harm our revolution.
Daw Myint Myint Than, mother of Ko Aung Thura Zaw
Daw Myint Myint Than said she was so happy to see her son on Saturday without knowing that that would be the last time.
“I thought he would be scrawny but he had put on weight. I was relieved. He asked me to include toothpaste, toothbrush and shoes in my next package,” she said.
“I had toothpaste and toothbrush with me and said I will come soon with money and shoes.”
Daw Myint Myint Than asked the prison authorities to alert her about any developments.
However, like the other families, she found out about the executions on Monday.
Ko Aung Thura Zaw never met his baby who was born after his arrest. His mother said the prison authorities said they would allow him to meet his wife and nine-month-old baby on Friday.
Daw Myint Myint Than could not see or collect her son’s body.
She is proud of her son. “I am overwhelmed by sorrow, which is unbearable. But I am proud of him for what he sacrificed.
“I wanted to see his body. I want to hold a Buddhist funeral for him,” she said.
Ko Jimmy, Ko Phyo Zeya Thaw and Ko Aung Thura Zaw were allowed to see their families for the last time but Ko Hla Myo Aung was not, according to his father-in-law U Myint Oo.
At the time he was arrested, his wife, son and mother-in-law were also arrested. His son and mother-in-law were released a month later. His wife was sentenced to three years in prison and is at Kyaikmaraw Prison in Mon State.
“At first he was held in Taungoo Prison. From there he was sent to Insein after the execution orders were confirmed. We went to Insein three times and every time, we were told that he was not there. We were not informed about his death. We could not see him for the last time before his execution,” he said.
Family members went to Insein on Monday to confirm the execution but could not see the body.
U Myint Oo said: “I hope similar things do not happen to others. I don’t want to see executions of others who are on death row. I pray for them to be free,” he said.
Ko Jimmy’s wife Nilar Thein told Radio Free Asia on Monday that she views the executions as extrajudicial, unfair and blatant murder.
“They have to pay for everything they have done,” the bereaved wife said. “He remained loyal to the revolution and the people until his last breath. He wrote his own history that will never die. Ko Jimmy will never die. They are heroes that will live forever in our hearts and the hearts of all the people. We will not hold a funeral for him,” Ma Nilar Thein told the broadcaster.