Still unable to stamp out resistance to its rule 17 months after they carried out a bloody coup, Myanmar’s military brass is stepping up repression, executing four political opponents July 23, the first use of the death penalty in more than 30 years.
Phyo Zeya Thaw and Kyaw Min Yu were convicted under draconian anti-terrorism laws. Hla Myo Aung and Aung Thura Zaw were convicted of killing a military informant. All four were hung after closed-door trials where they were barred from being represented by attorneys. Relatives were not informed until after the executions were carried out. Protesters marched against the killings in Yangon two days later, carrying a banner saying, “We will never be frightened.”
At least 117 people have received death sentences for their part in mass protests and strikes, which erupted following the Feb. 1, 2021, coup. Three months later thousands protested in Kyaukme City in Shan state, above. Military chiefs overthrew the government of the National League for Democracy, a capitalist party headed by Aung San Suu Kyi, who had been elected in a landslide three months earlier. One of those executed, Thaw, was a legislator in Suu Kyi’s government.
Since the coup, the regime has gunned down unarmed demonstrators, bombed protest encampments and burnt down thousands of homes.
For decades Myanmar’s rulers relied on stoking ethnic animosity and using the military to wage war against dozens of groups in regions where ethnic minorities are a majority of the population. These conflicts continue. But during the struggle against the coup, protesters forged unity among ethnic groups to fight military rule.