Myanmar executions: who were 4 killed by military, where is the country, who is in power, what is a ‘junta’?

The executions are the first to occur in Myanmar in almost 50 years

Myanmar’s government said it has carried out its first executions in nearly 50 years, hanging a former National League for Democracy (NLD) legislator, a democracy activist and two men accused of violence after the country’s takeover by the military last year.

The executions, detailed in the state-run Mirror Daily newspaper, were carried out despite worldwide pleas for clemency for the four political prisoners.

Who were the people executed?

Myanmar’s government confirmed on Monday (25 July) that it had carried out the execution of four individuals, hanging a former lawmaker, a democracy activist and two other political prisoners.

According to the state-run Mirror Daily newspaper, which first announced the executions, the four were killed “in accordance with legal procedures” for directing and organising “violent and inhuman accomplice acts of terrorist killings”.

The publication did not state when the executions had taken place.

The military government issued a brief statement confirming the report, while the prison where the men had been held and the prison department refused to comment.

Kyaw Min Yu

Kyaw Min Yu (also known as Ko Jimmy), 53, was a prominent democracy activist who rose to prominence as one of the leaders of the 88 Generation Students Group, which took part in the 8888 Uprising against the previous military regime in Myanmar in 1988.

He was imprisoned for 15 years, from 1988 to 1996, for his involvement in the 8888 Uprising. He then spent another five years in prison for protesting fuel price hikes, known as the Saffron Revolution, with the 88 Generation Students Group in 2007, and was released in January 2012.

Myanmar political prisoner Kyaw Min Yu (C), known as Jimmy, and his wife Ni Lar Thein (L) holding her child, both members of the 88 Generation student group (Photo by Soe Than WIN/AFP via Getty Images)

In February last year, following the 2021 Myanmar coup, Kyaw Min Yu and  a number of other individuals were charged and issued arrest warrants for social media posts that allegedly incited unrest, with state media stating that he was accused of terrorist acts including mine attacks and heading a group called Moon Light Operation to carry out urban guerrilla attacks.

He was arrested on 23 October last year.

Kyaw Min Yu was married to fellow political activist and 88 Generation Students Group leader Nilar Thein. The two welcomed their daughter, Nay Chi Min Yu, into the world in 2007.

Phyo Zeya Thaw

Phyo Zeya Thaw, 41,  was a former legislator from ousted leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s party, also known as Maung Kyaw, who was convicted in January by a closed military court of offences involving explosives, bombings and financing terrorism.

Prior to entering into the world of politics, Phyo Zeya Thaw was a hip-hop artist. In 2000, his band Acid released the album Beginning which topped the Burmese charts for over two months.

He was also one of the four founding members of Generation Wave, a pro-democracy youth movement. The group was formed in October 2007, after the Saffron Revolution. Phyo Zeya Thaw was imprisoned for his activism in 2008 for three years for alleged “illegal organising under the Unlawful Association Act”.

Recently-elected National League for Democracy (NLD) candidate in the April 1 by-election in a Naypyidaw constituency Phyo Zeya Thaw talks to reporters (Photo by Soe Than WIN/AFP via Getty Images)

After he was released in 2011, Phyo Zeya Thaw went on to become a member of the National League for Democracy, and in 2012 was elected into the House of Representatives for Pobbathiri Township.

In the 2015 Myanmar general election, Phyo Zeya Thaw won the Zabuthiri Township constituency.

He was arrested in November 2021 by the Myanmar military and was charged with planning attacks under the Counterterrorism Law and Public Property Protection Act.

His wife, Thazin Nyunt Aung, told the AP she had not been informed his execution had been carried out. “I am still trying to confirm it myself,” she said.

Hla Myo Aung and Aung Thura Zaw

The other two men, Hla Myo Aung and Aung Thura Zaw, were convicted of torturing and killing a woman in March 2021 whom they allegedly believed was a military informer.

The two were reportedly from Yangon and had been involved in protests and movements since the 2021 coup.

Who has spoken out against the executions?

A joint statement made on the behalf of the European Union, and the Foreign Ministers of Australia, Canada, Japan, New Zealand, Norway, Republic of Korea, the United Kingdom and the United States condemned the executions, describing them as “reprehensible acts of violence”.

The statement, in full, said: “The Myanmar military regime’s executions of pro-democracy and opposition leaders are reprehensible acts of violence that further exemplify the regime’s disregard for human rights and the rule of law.

“We urge the regime to release all those unjustly detained, grant full and independent access to prisons and fulfil its obligations under the Association of Southeast Asian Nations’ (ASEAN) Five-Point Consensus to seek peace through dialogue, not further violence.

Activists including Myanmar nationals take part in a rally to protest against Myanmar’s junta execution of four prisoners (Photo by PHILIP FONG/AFP via Getty Images)

“We support the people of Myanmar in their aspirations for freedom and democracy and call on the regime to end the use of violence, respect the will of the people, and restore the country’s path toward democracy.

“Our thoughts and condolences are with the bereaved families and loved ones as they grieve those unjustly put to death.

“We remember and mourn all lives lost in Myanmar in the aftermath of the coup.”

Elaine Pearson, acting Asia director of Human Rights Watch, said the legal proceedings against the four had been “grossly unjust and politically motivated military trials”.

“The junta’s barbarity and callous disregard for human life aims to chill the anti-coup protest movement,” she said.

Thomas Andrews, an independent UN-appointed expert on human rights who had condemned the decision to go ahead with the executions when they were announced in June, called for a strong international response.

“I am outraged and devastated at the news of the junta’s execution of Myanmar patriots and champions of human rights and decency,” he said in a statement.

“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.”

Myanmar has received worldwide condemnation over the executions (Photo by PHILIP FONG/AFP via Getty Images)

Amnesty International’s Regional Director Erwin van der Borght said: “The four men were convicted by a military court in highly secretive and deeply unfair trials.

“The international community must act immediately as more than 100 people are believed to be on death row after being convicted in similar proceedings.”

Myanmar’s foreign ministry had rejected the wave of criticism that followed its announcement in June, declaring that the country’s judicial system is fair and that Phyo Zeya Thaw and Kyaw Min Yu were “proven to be masterminds of orchestrating full-scale terrorist attacks against innocent civilians to instil fear and disrupt peace and stability”.

“They killed at least 50 people,” military spokesperson Maj Gen Zaw Min Tun said on live television last month.

He said the decision to hang all four prisoners conformed with the rule of law and the purpose was to prevent similar incidents in the future.

Where is Myanmar - who is in power?

Myanmar, officially named the Republic of the Union of Myanmar, was formerly known as Burma and is a country situated in Southeast Asia.

It’s the largest country in Mainland Southeast Asia, and according to World Bank, has an estimated population of 54.41 million.

It borders Bangladesh and India in the northwest, China to the northeast, Laos and Thailand to the east and southeast, and the Andaman Sea and Bay of Bengal to the south and southwest.

Police patrol on a street in Yangon on July 19, 2022 (Photo by STR/AFP via Getty Images)

The capital of Myanmar is Naypyidaw, with its largest city being Yangon, also known as Rangoon.

Currently ruling the country is General Min Aung Hlaing, the commander-in-chief of the Tatmadaw (military). He and the junta, which are a group of military leaders, took control after ousting the previously elected, civilian government in February 2021.

General Min Aung Hlaing declared a state of emergency for one year, closing the borders and restricting travel and electronic communications.

Myanmarese people stand on posters bearing the face of Myanmar military chief Min Aung Hlaing during a demonstration against the military coup (Photo by Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images)

State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi and President Win Myint were both placed under house arrest, with the military filing various charges against them.

Aung San Suu Kyi, who was awarded the Nobel Prize for Peace in 1991, led the National League for Democracy to victory in 2015, in the first openly-contested election in Myanmar in 25 years.

In April 2022, she was sentenced to five years in jail on corruption charges, conducted in a secret trial. This is on top of the six years she was sentenced to for allegedly violating the country’s official secrets act by having illegal walkie-talkies and publishing information that could “cause fear or alarm”.

Myanmar’s State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi (Photo by THET AUNG/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

She also faces 10 other corruption charges, each of which carry a maximum of 15 years in jail.

President Win Myint was formally indicted in October 2021, under the Section 25 of the Disaster Management Law, which carries a three year prison sentence, and in December 2021 he was sentenced to four years in jail.

Since then, General Min Aung Hlaing has received worldwide condemnation, with human rights group Assistance Association of Political Prisoners stating that the regime’s security forces have killed over 2,000 people since the coup.