Men executed by the Burmese junta

On Monday, Myanmar’s military junta executed four pro-democracy activists for committing “terrorist acts”. Veteran activist Ko Jimmy Kyaw Min Yu, better known as Ko Jimmy, and hip-hop star-turned-MP Aung Phyo Zayar Thaw were among the four killed.

Democracy activist Kyaw Min Yu, also known as Jimmy, who rose to prominence during Myanmar’s student uprising in 1988, and former lawmaker Phyo Zeya Thaw were executed on Monday. AFP

The Burmese junta on Monday executed four pro-democracy activists accused of having committed “terrorist acts”. Veteran activist Kyaw Min Yu, better known as Ko Jimmy, and former National League for Democracy MP Phyo Zayar Thaw were executed, along with Hla Myo Aung and Aung Thura Zaw.

The four were sentenced to death in a closed trial in January this year. They appealed against the sentence, which was dismissed.

The executions are the first since 1988, according to the United Nations, which condemned the killings.

“I am outraged and devastated by the news of the execution by the junta of patriots of Myanmar and defenders of human rights and democracy”, says the UN special rapporteur on human rights in Myanmar, Tom Andrews.

The defendants and their “crimes”

Ko Jimmy, 53, was one of the leaders of the Generation 88 Student Group, a pro-democracy group that led the 1988 student uprising against the Myanmar junta but failed.

He and his wife Nilar Thein are considered veterans of the pro-democracy movement and have led agitations for years. During the 2007 demonstrations led by monks against the regime, the couple mobilized the demonstrators of the 1988 unrest.

Veteran hiphopstar activist turned lawmaker The men executed by Myanmar's junta

Kyaw Min Yu, popularly known as Ko Jimmy, and his wife Nilar Thein. Both played key roles in the 2007 protests led by monks against the regime. PA

Jimmy had already spent more than a dozen years behind bars for political activism before being released in 2012. He was arrested again last October after being charged with hiding weapons and ammunition in a apartment in Yangon and to have been an “advisor” to the National Unity Government, reports BBC.

He had been put on a wanted list for social media posts allegedly inciting unrest. State media said he was accused of terrorist acts, including mine attacks, and that he led a group called Operation Moon Light to carry out urban guerrilla attacks, reports The Associated Press.

Veteran hiphopstar activist turned lawmaker The men executed by Myanmar's junta

Former MP Phyo Zeya Thaw was executed on Monday. Myanmar carried out its first executions in more than three decades. PA

Phyo Zeya Thaw, 41, was a former National League for Democracy (NLD) lawmaker for ousted leader and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung Sang Suu Kyi. He was arrested in November and sentenced to death in January for anti-terrorism offenses.

Thaw was a former hip-hop star who became a politician. His band Acid released the country’s first-ever hip-hop album, and its subversive lyrics angered the previous junta. He was imprisoned in 2008 for membership in an illegal organization and possession of foreign currency.

Thaw became close to Suu Kyi and even attended meetings with world leaders with her, reports BBC. He was elected to parliament to represent the NLD in the 2015 elections, which marked the beginning of a transition to civilian rule.

Not much is known about the other two activists – Hla Myo Aung and Aung Thura Zaw. They were sentenced to death for killing a woman they believe was a junta informant in Yangon.

Outrage from the international community

The junta came under heavy criticism from international powers last month when it announced its intention to carry out the executions.

United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres condemned the decision, calling it “a flagrant violation of the right to life, liberty and security of person”.

The junta slammed critics from the UN and Western countries as “irresponsible and reckless”.

Human Rights Watch’s acting Asia director Elaine Pearson called the executions “an act of utter cruelty”, which “followed extremely unfair and politically motivated military trials”, reports CNN. “This horrific news was compounded by the junta’s failure to notify the men’s families, who learned of the executions from junta media,” Pearson said in a statement Monday.

UN human rights experts have said that if the executions continue, it could mark the start of a series of hangings. Experts said under the junta’s martial law provisions, the death penalty could be handed down for 23 ‘vague and broadly defined offences’ which, in practice, could include any criticism of the military , reports the news agency AFP.

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen had previously urged Myanmar to reconsider its situation and suggested the executions would draw strong condemnation and complicate efforts to restore peace. Hun Sen is particularly interested in Myanmar as Cambodia this year chairs the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations, which has sought to end violence in Myanmar and provide humanitarian aid . Myanmar is a member of ASEAN but has not cooperated with the bloc’s plans.

Myanmar’s foreign ministry has dismissed criticism of the decision to carry out the executions, saying Myanmar’s justice system is fair and that Phyo Zeya Thaw and Kyaw Min Yu have proven to be masterminds in orchestrating attacks large-scale terrorists against innocent civilians to sow fear and disrupt peace and stability, reports PA. They killed at least 50 people, army spokesman Major General Zaw Min Tun said on live television last month, referring to Phyo Zeya Thaw and Kyaw Min Yu. He said that the decision to hang the four prisoners was for the rule of law and to prevent similar incidents from happening again.

Other executions expected

The country’s military alleged voter fraud in the 2020 election, which the NLD won by a landslide victory, and carried out a coup on February 1 last year. After Suu Kyi was arrested in 2021, she was sent to solitary confinement on June 23.

She has already been sentenced to 11 years in prison. However, she denies several charges against her.

Since the coup, 114 people have been sentenced to death in Myanmar. However, Monday’s killings of the activists mark the first judicial executions in the country in more than three decades and more are likely to follow.

Under the junta, civil cases were tried by military courts and proceedings are closed to the public.

With the exception of the past 10 years, the military has directly ruled Myanmar for decades, sentencing many of its critics to death.

With contributions from agencies

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