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Myanmar Junta Prepares to Execute Four Political Prisoners; Alarms Raised in Southeast Asia

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Published: June 8, 2022
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Prison officials stand guard as they prepare for the release of prisoners outside of the Insein Prison in Yangon on April 17, 2022. (Image: STR/AFP via Getty Images)

On Tuesday, June 7, the ASEAN Parliament for Human Rights (APHR) called for Southeast Asia to stop the execution of four political prisoners by the Myanmar military junta.

While the response to the pending executions has been fierce, the junta itself has dismissed the concerns as “reckless.”

Pending death

APHR, a network of current and former parliamentarians in Southeast Asia, said in a statement on Monday, June 6, that Southeast Asian parliamentarians were dismayed by the announcement made by the military junta to execute the four political prisoners.

“ASEAN and the international community must use every means at their disposal to prevent these executions from taking place. If they are carried out they will be nothing less than cold blooded political assassination,” APHR Chairperson Charles Santiago, who is also Member of Parliament from Malaysia, said.

APHR has called for all member states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), and its Dialogue Partners, to prevent the execution of the prisoners. 

They also backed a recent statement by United Nations Secretary General, Antonio Guterres, who believes the arrested were wrongfully sentenced.

One of those given the death sentence is former MP Phyo Zeya Thaw, a former lawmaker under Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy, who was arrested in November 2021 after being charged for “offenses under anti-terrorist laws.” He was given a death sentence in January.

Phyo Zeya Thaw was previously accused of inciting attacks on the junta, including a gun attack on a commuter train in Yangon in August 2021, which resulted in the deaths of five police officers.

Democracy activist Kyaw Min Yu, better known as Ko Jimmy, was charged and sentenced to death under the same charges, after being detained in October 2021 for his social media posts.

The other two men were sentenced to death for killing a woman who was supposedly an informer for the junta in Yangon.

The four men “will be hanged according to prison procedures,” junta spokesperson Zaw Min Tun said.

Zeya Thaw and Ko Jimmy both appealed their sentences, but both were rejected, though it is unknown who rejected the appeals.

“Previously, the convicts sentenced to death could appeal and if no decision was made, then their death sentences would not be implemented,” Zaw Min Tun told BBC Burmese. “At this time, that appeal was rejected so the death sentences are going to be implemented.”

Other than the four announced, the junta has also sentenced dozens of other anti-coup activists to death during last year’s crackdown on “dissent”. Less than a hundred people in total — including those under the age of 18 at the time — have been sentenced to death since the February 2021 coup, according to Human Rights Watch.

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“These executions would further contribute to prevent the already remote possibility of a sustainable political dialogue, as prescribed over one year ago in the Five-Point Consensus agreed by ASEAN member states and Min Aung Hlaing’s junta, which has not made any effort whatsoever in that direction,” Santiago said.

A spokesperson for Amnesty International also called for the junta to “immediately drop such plans and for the international community to step up its efforts to intervene.”

Regardless of the international opposition, the junta has condemned the statements against the death sentences, calling them “impossible and reckless statements and remarks,” per a statement by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs published by the state-run Global New Light of Myanmar on Tuesday. The Ministry also said the criticisms were “abetting terrorism.”

Despite the severity of the sentencing, there has not been a judicial execution in Myanmar since 1988. According to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (Burma), around 14,018 people have been arrested, with another 1,905 killed by the junta.