Families of seven university students sentenced to death by Myanmar’s military regime are reeling at unconfirmed reports they will be executed on Wednesday.
A closed military court in Yangon handed down the death sentences on November 30 after the students were accused of murder.
If carried out, they will be the second executions of regime opponents by the junta this year after the hanging of four democracy activists in July.
The July executions were the first death sentences carried out in Myanmar in over 30 years.
The seven facing the death penalty are Ko Khant Zin Win, Ko Thura Maung Maung, Ko Zaw Lin Naing, Ko Thiha Htet Zaw, Ko Hein Htet, Ko Thet Paing Oo and Ko Khant Linn Maung Maung. All are students at Dagon University in Yangon and aged between 18 and 24.
“Our mother has broken down since [hearing about the death sentences],” said a family member of one of the students.
“We have to comfort each other. When we first heard news of his death sentence, we could not accept it. We are praying that the sentence will be commuted to life imprisonment.”
The students were arrested on April 22 for alleged involvement in the April 18 fatal shooting of Global Treasure Bank branch manager Saw Moe Win, a former military officer. The students were also accused of robbery. Global Treasure was a state-owned bank before coming under private ownership in 2013.
The seven students are being held in Insein Prison. Family members are allowed to send them parcels twice a month but were told nothing about their closed prison trials. They only found out about the death sentences from reports by junta-controlled media.
A relative of another student said: “We found reports about their death sentences in newspapers. He is the eldest nephew in our family, so we are deeply concerned for him. We will do what we can and lodge an appeal.”
Family members of other students are also consulting with their lawyers to submit appeals for leniency. Convicts can appeal to a military tribunal and, if rejected, lodge a final appeal with junta chief Min Aung Hlaing, according to a lawyer.
The seven students also reportedly face three other charges, details of which are not known.
In a separate trial in June, a military court also sentenced Wai Zin Yan, Thu Htoo Aung, and Min Htet Thar to death for allegedly shooting and killing a ward administrator in north Yangon on May 24.
Junta-run courts have imposed the death penalty on 138 people since the February 2021 coup, including 41 in absentia, according to Assistance Association for Political Prisoners.
The junta has retained the death sentences despite widespread international condemnation over the executions of four pro-democracy activists including a former lawmaker in July.
Dagon University’s student union has launched an online campaign calling for an end to executions of political prisoners and students in Myanmar.
The UN high commissioner for human rights, Volker Turk, also expressed alarm at the new death sentences on December 2.
“By resorting to use [of] death sentences as a political tool to crush opposition, the military confirms its disdain for the efforts by ASEAN and the international community at large to end violence and create the conditions for a political dialogue to lead Myanmar out of a human rights crisis created by the military,” Turk said in a statement.
Myanmar’s secretive military tribunals have long shown complete disregard for basic human rights protections and failed to uphold international due process and fair trial standards, he added.
Eight students from Dagon University are now facing the death sentence and about 40 others have been detained since the coup, according to its student union.