Death Penalty Cases Soar in Myanmar Since Coup

By The Irrawaddy 30 May 2022

The use of the death penalty in Myanmar has increased at an alarming rate under military rule, with nearly 90 people sentenced to death by military tribunals since the coup last year, rights group Amnesty International said.

Based on media reports and some of the other limited number of sources available, including military-controlled state media, AI said that at least 86 death sentences have been handed down since February 2021. The majority of those were against anti-regime resistance members or people with ties to the resistance movement.

Myanmar has been in social and political turmoil since the coup due to popular resistance against the regime. The junta has responded with heavy-handed tactics.

From 2017-20 in Myanmar, during which the elected National League for Democracy (NLD) government was in office, the number of death penalty cases averaged fewer than 10 per year; since the coup that number has increased by about eight times. In 2020 there was only one death penalty case.

Shortly after the coup, martial law was imposed in Hlaing Tharyar, Shwe Pyi Thar, North Okkalar, North Dagon, South Dagon and Eastern Dagon (Seikkan) townships. Most of the death sentences were imposed in these townships.

The military transferred the civilian cases to special and military tribunals through summary proceedings in which the defendant did not have the right to appeal. Most of the death sentences were imposed arbitrarily—several without the defendants being present, according to the AI statement.

“Available information indicates that the proceedings were summary, with the defendants unable to access legal representation,” the rights group said.

Those sentenced to death include a former member of Parliament from the National League for Democracy (NLD), Ko Phyo Zeyar Thaw, and 88 Generation student leader Ko Jimmy. They were arrested in Yangon last year and sentenced to death on Jan. 21, 2022 for aiding and abetting the armed resistance movement in the city.

In Myanmar, the death penalty has become “a tool for the military in the ongoing and widespread persecution, intimidation and harassment of and violence on protestors and journalists,” AI said.

Before February 2021, the death sentence in Myanmar was sporadically imposed in murder cases, and usually commuted through mass pardons.

AI said that according to reports on the sentences, at least 26 defendants were tried and convicted while not being present; at least two were teenagers at the time of the alleged offense; and one man was reported as having a severe mental (psychosocial) disability.

Since the coup on Feb. 1, 2021, about 1,085 people have been sentenced to prison in Myanmar and an estimated 1,864 people killed by the junta, according to data from the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, which documents fatalities and arrests at the hands of the military regime’s forces.