The Burmese junta has executed four political prisoners by hanging them as it announced on June 4, sparking a wave of protests. The announcement was made on 25 July by Global New Light of Myanmar, the regime’s daily newspaper, which did not specify the exact dates of the executions. The families have been informed through the press and have not yet been able to recover the bodies.
The Association of Southeast Asian Countries (ASEAN) expressed “strong shock” at the news of the executions. ASEAN had adopted in April 2021 a five-point plan to re-establish dialogue with the military junta after the coup in February 2021. But the lack of progress has caused Burma to be excluded from several meetings of the association, specifically the one scheduled for July 30 in Phnom Penh among the foreign ministers of the acceding countries.
The protests came from the United States, the UN, and the European Union which “strongly condemned” the “executions for political reasons” of four people, including two members of the parliamentary opposition, the chief said on July 25. of EU diplomacy, Josep Borrell. “These executions represent a new stage in the complete dismantling of the rule of law and a new flagrant violation of human rights in Burma”, recalling that the European Union is opposed to the death penalty, “an inhuman, cruel and irreversible punishment”.
The needs of the protest
A rapper and a writer: the popular Phyo Zeya Thaw and Kyaw Min Yu, aka “Jimmy”, both expressed their opposition to the Burmese regime which ultimately silenced them with the death penalty. They are two of the four opposition prisoners killed on 25 July.
Killed at 41, Phyo Zeya Thaw embodied the needs of a new generation of Burmese youth, raised in cities, open to the influences of the outside world and politically dissident. With the Acid group he was one of the pioneers of rap in the 2000s, when he imported the fashion of extra-large basketball tank tops and a taste for subversive verses from the United States. “We will never change, we will never give up, we will never give up”, says one of his songs, distributed clandestinely to avoid the censorship of the regime of the time.
His commitment had continued by organizing the Generation wave movement, a network of dozens of artists who oppose the military junta. A commitment that cost him imprisonment between 2008 2 and 2011 for belonging to an illegal organization and possession of foreign currency.
End of the transition
The wind had changed as Burma set out on the road to democracy. Phyo Zeya Thaw was part of the National League for Democracy, the party of Aung San Suu Kyi, “it is my lighthouse”, he said during an interview after being elected deputy in 2015 in a constituency of Naypyidaw, the capital that has took the place of Rangoon and was built entirely by the army.
After the military coup of February 1, 2021, which brutally closed the parenthesis of the transition, Phyo Zeya Thaw was arrested in November, accused by the new junta of having organized several attacks against the armed forces. He had been sentenced to death in January. “My son is neither a thief nor a criminal. I am proud that he gave his life for his country. If I can recover his remains or his ashes, I would like to bury him by leaving an inscription on his grave, ”the mother told Radio Free Asia after news of the execution.
The path of Kyaw Min Yu, who was put to death at the age of 53, followed that of the 1991 Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi.
Kyaw Min Yu at 19 had become an opposition figure to General Ne Win’s military regime at the time of the 1988 protests, which brought the country Aung San Suu Kyi. Like her, Kyaw Min Yu, aka “Jimmy”, was arrested when the junta regained control of the country. In total he had spent twelve years in prison, “the second home”, as he usually called it. “The government wants to get rid of them, but they will always find a way to participate in political life,” she said in 2006 when he was campaigning for pro-democracy advocates while continuing his writing career.
His wife, Nilar Thein, is an activist, and Jimmy was back in prison in 2007, a few months after the birth of his daughter, during the time of the “Orange Revolution”, a new and broad protest movement. Nilar Thein ended up in prison a year later, and they had to wait until 2012 to see each other again, on the occasion of an amnesty. Arrested in October, Kyaw Min Yu was sentenced to death for “inciting rebellion” with messages from him on social media. His death “is the result of a shameful murder,” Nilar Thein told Radio Free Asia. “He will always remain alive in our hearts”.
“Burma had not applied the death penalty since 1988,” writes correspondent Brice Pedroletti in Le Monde. “There are now 68 people held on death row since February 1, 2021, the date of the last coup. Another 41 convicted in absentia are on the run or have fled the country, explains the Burmese Political Prisoners Assistance Association. The four executions announced on July 25 caused a series of protests and insults on social media against the military coup, as well as sporadic demonstrations. According to them, the feeling of injustice caused by the excruciating inertia of the international community in the face of the civil war raging in the country is increasing for many Burmese ”