Myanmar’s junta has sentenced 156 civilians to death since coup

Military seeks to instill fear in those who oppose its rule.
By RFA Burmese
Myanmar’s junta has sentenced 156 civilians to death since coup Seven Dagon University students were sentenced to death by a secret military court inside Insein Prison on Nov. 30, 2022.
Dagon University Students’ Union

Myanmar’s junta has sentenced at least 156 people to death – including four teenagers and many in their 20s – since seizing power in a coup d’etat, according to a group monitoring prisoners of conscience in the country.

Thailand’s Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (Burma) said in a report that the junta has increasingly sentenced political activists to death since the Feb. 1, 2022, takeover as a warning to opponents of its rule. Some 42 of the convictions have been in absentia.

The real total may actually be much higher, an official from the group told Radio Free Asia, speaking on condition of anonymity citing security concerns.

“The military junta deliberately gives death sentences to instill fear in the people,” he said. “However, the people of the spring revolution will continue to fight against the junta no matter how hard they try to scare them.”

The list includes 18-year-old Hein Min Naing from Mon state’s Ye township and three 19-year-olds from Yangon region’s Thingangyun township named Zaw Lin Naing, Khant Zin Win and Khant Lin Maung Maung.

Also on the list is Kaung Set Paing, a member of the All Burma Federation of Student Unions in his 20s, who was charged with incitement and terrorism on April 25 and sentenced to death, in addition to life imprisonment. Kaung Set Paing, who also runs the anti-junta North Okkalapa Township Student Union, was arrested in December.

Kaung Set Paing’s friend, who gave her name as Yatu, said that she was heartbroken to learn that he was tortured for a month during interrogation prior to his sentencing.

“A 20-year-old like him would have been enjoying his studies if the military coup hadn’t taken place,” she said. “But now, he is in a hopeless situation in prison. Since he has been sentenced to death, he could be executed … at any time and I worry about him everyday.”

The junta executed four prominent activists in July – the first judicial executions in Myanmar in more than 30 years.

Kyaw Thet, a 27-year-old resident of Mandalay’s Wundwin township, was similarly sentenced to 225 years in prison in addition to a death sentence. 

After being arrested in Meiktila township in January 2022, he was indicted under more than 10 counts of criminal and terrorism charges. 

A person close to Kyaw Thet’s family, who declined to be named, told RFA that he is in poor health in Myingyan Prison due to injuries he sustained during interrogation.

“He suffers a lot of pain in his legs and faints often, as he sustained head injuries when he was beaten during interrogation,” they said. “His family cannot send him any food or necessities as they are fleeing junta arrest.”

The family friend said Kyaw Thet’s other relatives are “too scared to go to see him” and that the young man has been forced to “survive on the kindness of fellow prisoners, who share their food and personal items with him.”

‘Murders in prison’

Nay Phone Latt, spokesman for Myanmar’s shadow National Unity Government, accused the junta of committing “murders in prison” with the sentences handed to Kyaw Thet, Kaung Set Paing, and others.

“The terrorist military junta is killing many people in many ways outside prisons in order to stay in power,” he said. “In the same way, they are committing murders in prisons, too. A legitimate government would hand out death sentences like that.”

From left: 88 Generation student leader Jimmy, National League for Democracy MP Phyo Zayyar Thaw, Hla Myo Aung and Aung Thura Zaw have been executed by the Myanmar junta. Credit: Citizen journalist
From left: 88 Generation student leader Jimmy, National League for Democracy MP Phyo Zayyar Thaw, Hla Myo Aung and Aung Thura Zaw have been executed by the Myanmar junta. Credit: Citizen journalist

Thein Tun Oo, executive director of the Thayninga Institute for Strategic Studies, composed of former military officials, claimed that the sentences are necessary, given that the military government controls the three branches of power in the country.

“From a legal standpoint, we cannot complain about such judgements and sentences given under the law,” he said. “There certainly is the right to appeal, but whether or not to grant it to those given death sentences depends on crimes they have committed.”

Junta Deputy Minister of Information Major Gen. Zaw Min Tun, who is also the spokesperson of the military, told the media in December that those sentenced to death “will be executed.”

No proper defense, appeal process

But a justice lawyer told RFA that the sentences are illegitimate as those convicted were tried in military tribunals and denied a proper defense in court.

“There is only one military court of appeal and if it rejects the appeal, the only option left for the defendant is to file a petition for mercy from [junta] chief [Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing],” said the lawyer, who also spoke anonymously. 

“Their death sentences are final, as their cases could not be reviewed thoroughly in such a short time. That’s why I believe … [they] had very little right to defend themselves.”

According to the justice lawyer, those sentenced to death have the right to appeal in civilian, district, and plenary courts – including to the chief justice and the supreme court. 

However, he said, since seizing control of Myanmar’s judicial system, the junta has manipulated the law to severely punish those who oppose it with lengthy prison sentences and death penalties.

Translated by Myo Min Aung. Edited by Joshua Lipes and Malcolm Foster.


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