Ire and condemnation have grown both locally and internationally over the Myanmar junta’s decision to execute a former lawmaker from ousted State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s party and a veteran democracy activist in what will be the country’s first judicial execution of political dissidents in four decades.
Junta spokesman Zaw Min Tun told local media on Friday the regime had approved orders to carry out the death sentences of four people, including former MP Ko Phyo Zeya Thaw and democracy activist Ko Jimmy, also known as Kyaw Min Yu. The spokesman said the junta-controlled judiciary had already rejected appeals against the death sentences by the two men. With all avenues for appeal thus exhausted, they would be hanged soon according to prison procedures, he said.
The two were arrested late last year in their hideouts in Yangon and were given death sentences on terrorism charges in January by a military tribunal for masterminding armed resistance operations in Yangon.
Ko Phyo Zeya Thaw, 40, a hip-hop pioneer, was jailed by the previous military regime in 2008 for forming an underground youth organization known for using guerrilla tactics to distribute subversive material opposing the then junta. He was elected to the Union Parliament in the 2012 by-election representing the National League for Democracy (NLD) of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. Ko Jimmy, 53, is a leading member of the 88 Generation Students Group, which rose to prominence during the 1988 student uprising against the then junta. He was also jailed at that time for his anti-regime activism.
The two other men, Hla Myo Aung and Aung Thura Zaw, were earlier sentenced to death for killing a woman who was an alleged military informant.
The four are the first to have their sentences approved among 114 prisoners including students and anti-coup activists—two of whom are minors—who have been condemned to death since the coup. The condemned prisoners were subjected to unfair trials, and denied their legal rights to counsel and to defend themselves, for their roles in the revolutionary movement against the junta.
On Monday, 199 international and Myanmar non-governmental organizations and civil society groups jointly condemned the execution orders and called for the four to receive justice, for the law to be respected and for an end to execution orders.
Below are some other responses from the United Nations, the international community and Myanmar democratic forces against the junta’s decision and calls for it to be reversed.
General Gun Maw
Kachin Independence Army (KIA) vice chair
“I am not talking about the judicial system, nor about who is right or who is wrong. But I wish to avoid an unforgivable mistake,” Gen. Gun Maw said in a handwritten letter posted on his account.
Spokesperson for the UN Secretary-General
“We are deeply troubled by the Myanmar military’s decision to proceed with the execution of two pro-democracy activists after they received death sentences. This is a blatant violation of the right to life, liberty and security of person,” the spokesperson said in a briefing, referring to an article in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Parallel National Unity Government’s Ministry of Justice
“Death sentences imposed by the junta courts on Ko Jimmy, Ko Phyo Zeya Thaw and other civilians are a clear violation of Myanmar’s existing laws and international laws. Exercising the judiciary lawlessly and with a grudge and resentment to uphold the death penalty is committing a grave crime. We hereby announced that all verdicts handed down by the terrorist junta-controlled courts are invalid… The terrorist regime will be held fully responsible for any consequences,” the ministry said. It also warned that collaborators of the junta would be punished.
US Department of State spokesperson
“The United States strongly condemns the Burmese military regime’s reported plans to execute pro-democracy and opposition leaders, exemplifying the regime’s disregard for human rights and the rule of law. We urge the release of all unjustly detained.”
U Ko Ko Gyi
Former leading member of the 88 Generation Students Group, current chairman of the People’s Party
“The death penalty is normally upheld only after the final appeal to the president. This is also a time full of legal and political controversies. And thus this [the execution order] should be seriously considered, including the political consequences [that the junta will face]. Personally, as a comrade who worked with him [Ko Jimmy] for a long time, and as we are fathers who have daughters, it dismays me,” U Ko Ko Gyi told BBC Burmese.
Deputy director of US-based Human Rights Watch (HRW)
“[The] Myanmar junta’s move towards executing two prominent political leaders will be like pouring gasoline on the fire of popular anti-military resistance in the country.”
Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP)
“A junta council working to carry out an execution like this, is an unforgiveable act, and clear proof of utter disregard for the will of the international community who wish to return Burma [Myanmar] to democracy, as well as to ASEAN who wish to resolve the issue through the Five-Point Consensus.” The AAPP added that the junta’s execution announcement was an attempt to challenge and destroy future national reconciliation, including the stability of the country.
Spokesperson of the French Ministry for Foreign affairs
“France condemns in the strongest terms the decision announced by the military regime formed by the 1 February 2021 coup in Myanmar to execute four people, including the writer Kyaw Min Yu Ko, known as Ko Jimmy, and the former NLD MP Phyo [Zeyar] Thaw. This is an abject decision that targets once again defenders of freedom. The violation of the de facto moratorium regarding death sentence that has existed since more than 30 years in the country represents a major setback, while 113 death penalties have been arbitrarily imposed by military courts since the military coup. France reaffirms its constant opposition to the capital punishment at all times and in all circumstances.”
UK-based Amnesty International
“It is shocking that the Myanmar military has said it will resume executions in the country. The death sentence has become one of many appalling ways the Myanmar military is attempting to sow fear among anyone who opposes its rule, and would add to the grave human rights violations, including lethal violence targeted at peaceful protesters and other civilians.”