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World condemns Myanmar junta for ‘cruel’ execution of activists

MYANMAR’S ruling military announced it had executed four democracy activists accused of aiding “terror acts”, sparking widespread condemnation of the country’s first executions in decades.

Sentenced to death in secretive trials in January and April, the men were accused of helping a civilian resistance movement that has fought the military since last year’s coup and bloody crackdown on nationwide protests.

Among those executed were democracy campaigner Kyaw Min Yu, better known as Jimmy, and former lawmaker and hip-hop artist Phyo Zeya Thaw, an ally of ousted leader Aung San Suu Kyi. The two others executed were Hla Myo Aung and Aung Thura Zaw.

State media said “the punishment has been conducted”, but did not say when, or by what method. Previous executions in Myanmar have been by hanging.

The shadow National Unity Government (NUG), which is leading efforts to undermine the junta’s attempts to rule Myanmar, said it was time for an international response.

“The global community must punish their cruelty,” said Kyaw Zaw, a spokesperson for the NUG president’s office.

A combination image shows Kyaw Min Yu, also known as Ko Jimmy and Phyo Zeyar Thaw, two of the four democracy activists executed by Myanmar’s military authorities, accused of helping carry out “terror acts,” state media, in the undated screen grabs taken from a handout video. MRTV/Handout via REUTERS

Myanmar has been in chaos since the coup, with the military, which has ruled the former British colony for five of the past six decades, engaged in battles on multiple fronts with newly formed militia groups.

United Nations human rights chief Michelle Bachelet called the executions a “cruel and regressive step” that would “only deepen its entanglement in the crisis it has itself created.”

The United States condemned the action and said there can no longer be “business as usual” with Myanmar’s junta.

Amnesty International’s death penalty adviser, Chiara Sangiorgio, said the executions were “an enormous setback” and that the junta is “not going to stop there.”

Human Rights Watch acting Asia director Elaine Pearson said it was “an act of utter cruelty” that “aims to chill the anti-coup protest movement.”

One video showed several masked protesters chanting and carrying a large banner down on a street in Yangon that read “We will never be frightened” before turning to run.

‘HIDING BODIES AWAY’

The executions were the first carried out among some 117 death sentences handed down by military-run courts since the coup, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP), which has been tracking arrests, killings and court verdicts in Myanmar.

Families of the executed men were denied the opportunity to retrieve their loved ones’ bodies, said Thazin Nyunt Aung, wife of Phyo Zeyar Thaw, comparing it to murderers covering up their crimes.

Kyaw Min Yu (2nd R), released from Taunggyi prison, and his wife Nilar Thein (4th R), released from Thar Yar Waddi prison, carry their daughter as they arrive in Yangon domestic airport in Yangon, Myanmar January 13, 2012. REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun/File Photo

“This is killing and hiding bodies away,” she told Reuters. “They disrespected both Myanmar people and the international community.”

Nilar Thein, wife of Kyaw Min Yu, said she would hold no funeral without a body.

“We all have to be brave, determined and strong,” she posted on Facebook.

The men were held in Yangon’s Insein prison, where families visited last Friday, according to a person with knowledge of the events, who said prison officials allowed only one relative to speak to the detainees via video call.

“I asked then ‘why didn’t you tell me or my son that it was our last meeting?'” Khin Win May, the mother of Phyo Zeyar Thaw, told BBC Burmese.