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Military leaders in Myanmar execute former lawmaker, 3 political prisoners for 'terrorism'

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Phyo Zeya Thaw, a former National League for Democracy lawmaker and hiphop artist, was among four anti-coup activists who were executed by the Myanmar's military junta. File Photo by EPA-EFE
Phyo Zeya Thaw, a former National League for Democracy lawmaker and hiphop artist, was among four anti-coup activists who were executed by the Myanmar's military junta. File Photo by EPA-EFE

July 25 (UPI) -- Myanmar executed four anti-coup activists, including a former lawmaker, its military junta announced Monday, sparking widespread condemnation over the country's first use of the death penalty in decades.

Well-known democracy activist Kyaw Min Yu, known as "Ko Jimmy," and lawmaker Phyo Zeya Thaw of Aung San Suu Kyi's ousted National League for Democracy party were among those killed under charges of "brutal and inhumane terror acts," the government's information ministry said.

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The four defendants were executed "according to prison procedures," the ministry said. No further information was provided on how or when the killings occurred.

"I am outraged and devastated at the news of the junta's execution of Myanmar patriots and champions of human rights and democracy," Tom Andrews, the United Nations' human rights envoy for Myanmar, said in a statement.

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"These individuals were tried, convicted and sentenced by a military tribunal without the right of appeal and reportedly without legal counsel, in violation of human rights law," Andrews said. "These depraved acts must be a turning point for the international community."

Ko Jimmy, 52, and Phyo Zeya Thaw, a 41-year-old lawmaker who was also a trailblazing hip-hop artist in Myanmar, were sentenced to death in closed-door trials in January. The other two men executed, Hla Myo Aung and Aung Thura Zaw, were convicted in April 2021 for allegedly killing a military informant.

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"The Myanmar junta's execution of four men was an act of utter cruelty," Elaine Pearson, acting Asia director at Human Rights Watch, said in a statement. "This horrific news was compounded by the junta's failure to notify the men's families, who learned about the executions through the junta's media reports."

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According to the United Nations, the executions were the first in Myanmar since 1988. At least 114 people have been sentenced to death under the military junta, which overthrew the elected civilian government of the Aung San Suu Kyi-led NLD on unsubstantiated charges of voter fraud in February 2021.

Civil disobedience and nationwide protests sprung up immediately after the coup, which the junta brutally suppressed and have since hardened into an internal conflict that some describe as a full-fledged civil war.

Rights groups accused the military of using the executions to attempt to demoralize the anti-coup movement.

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"It is clear that these executions are made to strike fear among representatives of the democratic forces and political activists who oppose the junta," Tom Villarin, a former Philippine lawmaker and board member of ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights, said in a statement.

"Many political prisoners are subjected to torture and other forms of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, and now there are dozens of prisoners in Myanmar jails who could be executed at any moment," he said.

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According to the Thailand-based Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, the junta has arrested nearly 15,000 civilians and killed 2,114.

A March report by the U.N.'s human rights body found that the military's abuses in Myanmar may amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity.

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