Photos of the executed Myanmar political prisoner raised in the Bangkok protest.

Myanmar execution of four activists draws protests and condemnations

The execution of four anti-coup activists by the Myanmar junta prompted crowds of Myanmar migrants to protest in Thailand to express solidarity with the deceased. Despite widespread condemnation, calls for action have yet to materialise.

Protesters gather in front of the Myanmar embassy and along the BTS Station, raising a 3-finger salute.

According to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP), a total of 11,808 people are currently under detention in Myanmar. 1,355 of these been sentenced, 74 to death. Another 120 people have been sentenced in absentia.  Of these, 41 have also been sentenced to death. In total, 115 people are facing the death penalty. As of 27 July, 3,068 detainees have been released and another 22 people have been allowed out on bail. 

Protests in anger

Protests took place across Thailand  in response to the military regime’s announcement that it had hanged 88 Student Group activist Ko Jimmy, former National League for Democracy lawmaker Ko Phyo Zeya Thaw, Ko Aung Thura Zaw, and Ko Hla Myo Aung.

On 26 July, people gathered in front of the Myanmar embassy in Bangkok to protest the previous day’s executions. One of the participants, Zaw, age 38, expressed outrage over the news.  “This is normal for murderers, they want to murder everyone for their benefit, so it’s not strange. Now they show they don’t care about anyone, especially ASEAN. There is no neutral at this moment. In this injustice, if you are neutral, you are siding with the oppressors.”

He added that the State Administration Council (SAC) head and 2021 coup leader Min Aung Hlaing ignored calls from the international community stay the executions. “Everyone, including ASEAN, the UN, and the international community told him not to execute the political prisoners, but he [Min Aung Hlaing] did it.”

Zaw called upon all “ASEAN people to stand against injustice, not only the Tatmadaw, but any oppressor in the whole world. We have to be united. We are already connected to each other. If something happens in Myanmar, there will be an impact to Thailand, to Malaysia, to Singapore, to anywhere in Southeast Asia.”

Explaining why she came to the protest, Nann, another participant, said “even though we are not in the Myanmar land, we do as much as we can for our country.” She urged the Thai government to stop cooperating with the Myanmar military and take action because “Myanmar is your neighbour.”

 The protest continues around images of Aung San Suu Kyi and the executed activists.

The protest continued despite heavy rain. Many protestors wore strips of red cloth, a symbol of the National League for Democracy (NLD), around their heads and flashed three-finger salutes. Several also held up pictures of the four executed activists alongside images of NLD chairperson Aung San Suu Kyi. Shouts of “we want democracy, reject military!” could be heard.

During the protest, a Thai activist reported seeing crowd control police along Silom road. The protest organisers left a letter of demands tied to the door of the Myanmar embassy where it remained unreceived and unread.

Another demonstration took place simultaneously at Northern Thailand’s Tha Pae Gate, Chiang Mai, where activists and performers staged a series of performances to show solidarity with the people of Myanmar. 

Aung, a 21-year-old student at Chiang Mai University who performed at the event, noted that the executed activists were not the only people to have been killed by the junta, adding that a large number of others have died because they oppose military rule. Echoing the sentiments of Zaw and Nann, he added that he wants people to know what is happening in Myanmar and wants them to stand with the people of Myanmar, regardless of where they are.

“We know what’s happening … and that we stand with them.”

Performance art in solidarity with the Myanmar people at Tha Pae Gate, Chiang Mai (photo by Sinfoon Soonsak)

From Myanmar, Aung feels bad about the executions, explaining that the military killed innocent people who didn’t deserve to die for reasons that make no sense. He said that the military is being very aggressive and inhuman.  He performed at the protest to show support for the people fighting the junta. 

“They will be gone sooner or later. The military is not in the hearts of the Myanmar citizens anymore. I feel much pity toward them.”

Widely condemned

The international community was swift to condemn the execution of four democracy activists by the Tatmadaw despite repeated calls by the United Nations and the international community to stay the sentences. 

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet condemned the executions in the strongest of terms and called for a moratorium on the use of the death penalty and the immediate release of all political prisoners and others arbitrarily detained. 

UN Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in Myanmar, Tom Andrews, said that he was “outraged and devastated by the news of the junta’s execution of Myanmar patriots and champions of human rights and democracy. These individuals were tried, convicted, and sentenced by a military tribunal without the right of appeal and reportedly without legal counsel, in violation of international human rights law.”

He called Min Aung Hlaing’s actions a mockery of the ASEAN’s Five Point Consensus and for the international community’s status quo of inaction to change, saying, “ASEAN - and indeed all UN Member States - must take action that is commensurate with this outrage.”

In his capacity as ASEAN Chair, Prime Minister Hun Sen of Cambodia issued a statement to the effect that “ASEAN is extremely troubled and deeply saddened by the execution” despite the personal appeals from PM Hun Sen as well as other ASEAN Member States for the sentences to be reconsidered. The statement added that ASEAN take the matter “seriously” and reiterated its commitment to the ASEAN Charter and Five Point Consensus. 

Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan of Singapore went further, calling the junta’s execution of political detainees a “grave setback” for ASEAN’s efforts to facilitate national reconciliation and urging the release of all political prisoners. 

Pita Limjaroenrat, leader of the Move Forward party, joined the international community in “condemning such heinous acts in the strongest possible terms”. He noted that Myanmar has time and again failed to comply with ASEAN’s Five Point Consensus and urged the Thai government to alleviate the plight of the Myanmar people. 

“The Move Forward Party also urges the Thai government to send a strong and emphatic signal to the Myanmar junta that such senseless killings are entirely unacceptable as well as to promptly return power to the people through a free and fair election as a peaceful, democratic and prosperous Myanmar is in the best interest of not only Thailand but the global community as a whole.”

Thai Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesperson Thanee Saengrat expressed condolences for the executions, the first in almost five decades, and voiced concern that the killings were likely to impede the peace process.

In an unprecedented display of unity, the Myanmar civilian National Unity Government (NUG), Karen National Union (KNU), Karenni National Progressive Party (KNPP), Chin National Front (CNF), All Burma Students Democratic Front (ABSDF), and NLD have jointly vowed to fight the regime on all fronts by all means. 

In response to the torrent of international condemnation, the junta rejected the criticism “in the strongest terms” and stated that the activists “deserved many death sentences.” 

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