If death sentences against two prominent political opponents of the coup are carried out they will be the first since 1988.
Myanmar has condemned foreign statements questioning the death sentences upheld against two prominent anti-coup activists amid international concern over the military’s plans to move ahead with the country’s first executions in 30 years.
The United Nations, the United States and France last week criticised the action against veteran activist Ko Jimmy and former legislator Phyo Zeya Thaw, whose cases were heard by a secretive military tribunal.
Myanmar “protests and objects in the strongest terms to the irresponsible and reckless statements and remarks”, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement published by the state-run Global New Light of Myanmar on Tuesday. The criticisms were “abetting terrorism”, it added.
The statement singled out France for calling the coup leaders an “illegitimate military regime” and said the criticisms could have “negative impacts on existing bilateral relations”.
Ko Jimmy and Phyo Zeya Thaw were sentenced to death at a military tribunal in January under the 2014 counterterrorism law, and Myanmar announced last week that their appeals had been rejected.
Some 114 people have been sentenced to death in such proceedings since the military seized power in a February 2021 coup, including 41 in absentia, according to Human Rights Watch.
“Myanmar military courts’ disregard of basic rights was evident in the farcical trials and death sentences of Phyo Zeya Thaw and Ko Jimmy,” Manny Maung, Myanmar researcher at Human Rights Watch said in a statement. “These secretive tribunals with their lightning convictions are aimed at chilling any dissent against the military junta.”
The coup has encountered widespread opposition to which the military has responded with force. Some members of the anti-coup movement have also moved to take up arms against the military with the National Unity Government (NUG), established by legislators who were overthrown by the generals and others opposed to military rule, setting up their own armed groups.
More than 1,900 people have been killed by the military in the crackdown since the coup, according to the monitoring group Assistance Association for Political Prisoners. Nearly 11,000 remain in jail.
The Myanmar ministry statement insisted everyone was “treated equally under the law”, and the country’s judicial system was “independent”.
If the executions proceed, they will be the first since 1988, according to Amnesty International.
The United Nations had said it was “deeply troubled” by the planned executions saying it was “a blatant violation to the right to life, liberty and security of person”. France said it was a “despicable decision once again targeting the defenders of freedom“.
Legislators in Southeast Asia called on the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and the international community to stop the executions from going ahead.
“If they are carried out they will be nothing less than cold-blooded political assassination,” according to Charles Santiago, a Malaysian legislator and chair of the ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights. “These executions would further contribute to prevent the already remote possibility of a sustainable political dialogue, as prescribed over one year ago in the Five-Point Consensus agreed by ASEAN member states and Min Aung Hlaing’s junta, which has not made any effort whatsoever in that direction.”
The consensus, agreed in April last year, called for an immediate end to violence and dialogue with all parties concerned.
The military has refused to allow the ASEAN special envoy to meet democratically-elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who was arrested as the generals seized power and charged with more than a dozen different offences. She too is being tried in a closed-door court.