Myanmar’s Democracy Activists on Death Row Must Be Allowed to Live

By The Irrawaddy 17 June 2022

All of the pro-democracy activists on death row in Myanmar’s gulags must be allowed to live.

This solemn declaration of ours expresses the overwhelming wish of the people, and stands as a renunciation of the ill will of the junta, which is globally despised as “a bunch of thugs”.

Myanmar people at home and abroad have been desperately worried about four people—prominent veteran activist Ko Jimmy; Ko Phyo Zeya Thaw, a lawmaker from the ousted National League for Democracy; and two other condemned prisoners, Ko Hla Myo Aung and Ko Aung Thura Zaw—since the junta ordered their executions on June 3.

Friends and supporters of the activists inside and outside the country have told us they have not slept since the order was announced. While reporting the latest developments and updating this story, our team has also been deeply concerned about the fate of the pro-democracy activists every single day for the last two weeks.

Saturdays, especially, are filled with worry. The country’s history haunts us.

Saya San was hanged by the British for his leading role in a peasant uprising against colonial rule on Nov. 28, 1931—a Saturday.

Galon U Saw, the assassin of independence leader Aung San, was hanged on May 8, 1948—also a Saturday.

And student leader Salai Tin Maung Oo was hanged for his activism against the authoritarian regime of dictator General Ne Win on June 26, 1976—another Saturday.

So, we were especially worried about Ko Jimmy, Ko Phyo Zeya Thaw and the other two on death row over the past two Saturdays.

On Thursday, when the junta held its monthly press conference in Naypyitaw, its spokesperson Major General Zaw Min Tun reaffirmed that the execution orders in their cases are irreversible.

Anti-regime protesters hang a warning against the regime’s planned execution of Ko Jimmy and Ko Phyo Zeya on an overpass in downtown Yangon. The warning says “We will surely retaliate if the executions are carried out!”

“They deserve execution,” he added.

With this confirmation, tomorrow will be another especially anxious Saturday.

That doesn’t necessarily mean the junta is certain to follow this grim tradition—though its generals, especially its chief Min Aung Hlaing, are every bit as superstitious as their predecessors.

In reality, the generals’ willingness to kill and oppress people is not bound by concerns of time or place. They are always ready to commit murder, no matter when, where or against whom.

To date, the junta has killed more than 1,900 citizens, including nearly 400 children, since seizing power on Feb. 1, 2021.

It kills at any place, any time, morning, noon and night—24-7. The killings take place everywhere—on streets, in homes, in churches and monasteries, in rice fields, in detention centers and in its gulags.

The regime led by Min Aung Hlaing has turned our beautiful Myanmar into a killing field over the past year-and-a-half. As long as this bunch of thugs exist, the killing will increase.

But what the irrational generals have failed to learn over successive regimes is that they can never kill the spirit and courage of the people, who are determined to fight against their unjust rule to the end.

Countless names and their souls, including Salai Tin Maung Oo in 1976, and Ko Phone Maw and Ma Win Maw Oo in the 1988 uprising, are still with us, though previous regimes took their lives on gallows or in the streets. The spirits of those freedom fighters live on, giving new generations the courage and determination to keep fighting.

The regime’s relentless killing has left the country soaked in blood, but the people are unbowed.

More killings will only fan the flames of the current resistance.

Last year, the junta’s deadly shootings at peaceful anti-coup protests nationwide spurred young people to start forming People Defense Force groups (PDFs) across the country. One year later, those forces have grown into a loosely organized, 100,000-strong people’s army.

Executing Ko Jimmy, Ko Phyo Zeya Thaw and the other two anti-regime activists will simply accelerate the tempo of the current resistance. The full impact will be hard to predict, just as no one predicted the rapid emergence of the PDFs.

For the generals, however, the only thing they know when it comes to ruling the country is killing. If they cling to this traditional obsession with killing, it will surely hasten their downfall.

It would therefore be wise for the regime to reverse its execution orders for Ko Jimmy, Ko Phyo Zeya Thaw and the other two.