BANGKOK (AP) — Myanmar has carried out its first executions in nearly 50 years with the hangings of a former National League for Democracy lawmaker, a democracy activist and two men accused of violence after the country’s military takeover last year.
The executions announced Monday were carried out despite worldwide pleas for clemency for the four political detainees.
The Mirror Daily state newspaper said the four planned, directed and organized “the violent and inhuman accomplice acts of terrorist killings.”
The paper said they were hanged according to prison procedures but did not say when the executions occurred.
Phyo Zeya Thaw, a 41-year-old former lawmaker from ousted leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s party also known as Maung Kyaw, was convicted in January by a closed military court of offenses involving explosives, bombings and financing terrorism.
He had been arrested last November based on information from people detained for shooting security personnel, state media said at the time. He was also accused of being a key figure in a network that carried out what the military described as terrorist attacks in Yangon, the country’s biggest city.
Phyo Zeya Thaw had been a hip-hop musician before becoming a member of the Generation Wave political movement formed in 2007. He was jailed in 2008 under a previous military government after being accused of illegal association and possession of foreign currency.
Also executed was Kyaw Min Yu, a 53-year-old democracy activist better known as Ko Jimmy, for violating the counterterrorism law. Kyaw Min Yu was one of the leaders of the 88 Generation Students Group, veterans of a failed 1988 popular uprising against military rule.
He already had spent more than a dozen years behind bars for political activism before his arrest in Yangon last October. He had been put on a wanted list for social media postings that allegedly incited unrest and state media said he was accused of terrorist acts including mine attacks and of heading a group called Moon Light Operation to carry out urban guerrilla attacks.
The other two men, Hla Myo Aung and Aung Thura Zaw, were convicted of torturing and killing a woman in March 2021 whom they believed was a military informer.
Western governments, rights groups and U.N. experts blasted the decision to hang them.
“The illegitimate military junta is providing the international community with further evidence of its disregard for human rights as it prepares to hang pro-democracy activists,” two U.N experts, Thomas Andrews, special rapporteur on human rights in Myanmar, and Morris Tidball-Binz, special rapporteur on extrajudicial summary or arbitrary executions, said earlier.
Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen had earlier urged Myanmar to reconsider and suggested their executions would draw strong condemnation and complicate efforts to restore peace.
Hun Sen has a special interest in Myanmar because Cambodia this year chairs the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations, which has sought to end the violence in Myanmar and provide humanitarian assistance. Myanmar is a member of ASEAN but has failed to cooperate with the bloc’s plans.
Myanmar’s Foreign Ministry rejected criticism of the decision to proceed with the executions, declaring that Myanmar’s judicial system is fair and that Phyo Zeya Thaw and Kyaw Min Yu were “proven to be masterminds of orchestrating full-scale terrorist attacks against innocent civilians to instill fear and disrupt peace and stability.”
“They killed at least 50 people,” military spokesperson Maj. Gen. Zaw Min Tun said on live television last month, referring to Phyo Zeya Thaw and Kyaw Min Yu. He said the decision to hang the four prisoners was for the rule of law and to prevent similar incidents in the future.
Myanmar’s military seized power from Suu Kyi’s elected government in February 2021, triggering peaceful protests that soon escalated to armed resistance and then to widespread fighting that some U.N. experts characterize as a civil war.
Some resistance groups have engaged in assassinations, drive-by shootings and bombings in urban areas. Mainstream opposition organizations generally disavow such activities, while supporting armed resistance in rural areas that are more often subject to brutal military attacks.
According to Myanmar law, executions must be approved by the head of the government. The last judicial execution to be carried out in Myanmar is generally believed to have been of another political offender, student leader Salai Tin Maung Oo, in 1976 under a previous military government led by dictator Ne Win.
In 2014, the sentences of prisoners on death row were commuted to life imprisonment, but several dozen convicts received death sentences between then and last year’s takeover.
The Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, a non-governmental organization that tracks killing and arrests, said Friday that 2,114 civilians have been killed by security forces since the military takeover. It said 115 other people had been sentenced to death.