Myanmar: Regional union body condemns activist executions

The South East Asia Journalists Unions (SEAJU) has strongly condemned the Myanmar military junta’s execution of four pro-democracy activists and the continued assault on human rights and press freedom under the regime. The region’s media unions said the military must immediately cease the state-sanctioned violence, arbitrary arrests and draconian laws that have suppressed activists and stifled freedom of expression.

An activist takes part in a rally to protest against Myanmar's junta execution of four prisoners, outside the United Nations University in Tokyo on July 26, 2022. Credit: Philip Fong / AFP

In the first use of capital punishment since 1988, four pro-democracy activists were executed including veteran activist, Kyaw Min Yu, also known as Ko Jimmy, and National League for Democracy lawmaker Phyo Zeya Thaw.

The four activists were sentenced to death under the 2014 Counterterrorism Law and Penal Code in a closed trial by what the United Nations has referred to as “an illegitimate court of an illegitimate junta”.

Myanmar’s junta arrested former student leader Ko Jimmy in October 2021, accusing him of inciting unrest and threatening the public after he criticised the military coup on social media. In 1988, Ko Jimmy was imprisoned for political activities and released in 1996. He was arrested again in 2007, following the Saffron Revolution, and imprisoned until 2012.

Phyo Zeya Thaw was arrested for allegedly overseeing the ‘deadly attacks on the military regime’ in Yangon. Two other activists, Hla Myo Aung and Aung Thura Zaw, were executed for killing an alleged junta informant.

The activists’ families were refused access to their bodies following the executions.

According to the United Nations, since the military coup on February 1, 2021, at least 117 people have been sentenced to death, with 41 people tried in absentia. The Assistance Association For Political Prisoners recorded 14,883 arrests and 2,123 junta killings in Myanmar as of July 26.

SEAJU is concerned that the imposition of the death penalty and the increase of extrajudicial killings throughout the country demonstrate a trend of brutal and indiscriminate violence to quell political dissent.

Myanmar has a Martial Law Order 3/2021 which allows the death penalty for 23 ambiguous offences including treason provisions and criticisms of the military. SEAJU notes that the ruling military will likely continue its egregious human rights violations given military spokesperson Zaw Min Tun’s defence of the executions’ legitimacy.

Since the military coup, media freedoms and protections for journalists in Myanmar have also rapidly declined. As of March 31 2022, 122 journalists and media staff have been arrested, 48 are currently detained, and 22 have been convicted.

The SEAJU said: “The executions indicate that the military junta has and will continue to use violence to instill fear, intimidate and quash independent and critical voices. SEAJU urges the Myanmar military to urgently halt its onslaught of human rights abuses and immediately release political prisoners who are illegitimately imprisoned.”

SEAJU members

Cambodian Association for the Protection of Journalists (CAPJ)

Cambodian Journalist Alliance Association (CamboJA)

Timor Leste Press Union (TLPU)

Alliance of Independent Journalists Indonesia (AJI)

Sindikasi

National Union of Journalists (Peninsula Malaysia) (NUJM)

Myanmar Journalist Association (MJA)

Myanmar Journalists Network (MJN)

National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP)

National Union of Journalists, Thailand (NUJT)

For further information contact IFJ Asia - Pacific on ifj@ifj-asia.org

The IFJ represents more than 600,000 journalists in 140 countries

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