On This Day

The Day the Prime Minister of British Burma was Hanged

By Wei Yan Aung 8 May 2019

YANGON—Seventy-one years ago today, U Saw, then prime minister of British Burma, was executed by hanging at Yangon’s Insein Prison for his assassination of Myanmar’s independence hero, General Aung San and Aung San’s cabinet members, in July 1947.

U Saw was hung at 5:33 a.m. on May 8, 1948, and before his last breath, he said prayers before the Buddhist shrine near the gallows. He said he harbored no grudge against the judges or prison wardens, then said goodbye to the prison governor. He was 48.

The ruling was made in December 1947, after 37 court hearings that spanned three months. Six individuals, including U Saw, were given death sentences.

He was tried before a special tribunal set up by Sir Hubert Rance, the British colonial governor. U Saw put the blame for the assassination on his subordinates. However, due to the testimonies of informers Ba Nyunt and Yangyi Aung, and other solid evidence, he was convicted. The President and the High Court of independent Myanmar rejected his appeals.

At the time of the trial, it was found that several low-ranking British officers had sold guns to a number of Burmese politicians, including U Saw. Shortly after the conviction, Captain David Vivian, a British Army officer, was sentenced to five years imprisonment for supplying U Saw with weapons. Captain Vivian escaped from prison during the Karen uprising at Insein in early 1949.

U Saw had only completed fifth-grade schooling but passed the law exam and became a lawyer. Despite his low educational profile, he played various roles on Myanmar’s political stage, even serving as the third prime minister of British Burma from 1940 until 1942.

While Myanmar was about to regain independence, U Saw rejected General Aung San’s invitation to join hands with him in independence efforts, and also rejected participating in signing the Aung San-Atlee Agreement.