Asean denounces execution of 4 opposition activists by Myanmar military as 'reprehensible'

The executions were the first since the military coup in Myanmar in February 2021.

Tan Min-Wei | July 26, 2022, 06:08 PM

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Myanmar’s ruling military announced the execution of four opposition activists on July 25. This has provoked denunciations from many members of the global community, particularly by Association of South East Asian Nations (Asean).

Four executions

On July 25, the military government of Myanmar, the Tatmadaw, announced that it had executed four opposition activists, Phyo Zeyar Thaw, Kyaw Min Yu, Hla Myo Aung, and Aung Thura Zaw.

The BBC reports that the four activists were accused of committing “terror acts”, and that they were sentenced to death in a closed-door trial.

Phyo Zeyar Thaw was an ally of deposed leader Aung San Suu Kyi, and was himself a former member of parliament. He had gained renown as a rapper, protesting against the initial junta, having been arrested once before in 2008 before being released in 2011 because of an amnesty.

Kyaw Min Yu was a former student leader during the 1988 uprising. He had been arrested several times before, having spent over 20 years in jail for his pro-democracy activities.

Both men were arrested again in late 2021.

The other two men were sentenced to death for the killing of a woman alleged to be an informant for the junta.

Although many activists had been sentenced to execution before, the sentences were rarely carried out. Due to the intensity of international pressure, there had been hopes that the sentences would again not be carried out.

Highly reprehensible

The Cambodian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, in its role as the Asean Chair for 2022, said that Asean “denounces and is strongly disappointed by the execution” of the activists. It noted that Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen had appealed as the Asean Chairman, as well as on behalf of other Asean states, “for the sentences to be reconsidered”, adding that “this is an issue that Asean takes seriously.”

Acknowledging the complexity of the crisis, the statement said that Asean had urged restraint, patience, and that the situation should not be escalated.

Taking issue with the fact that the executions had taken place a week before the 55th ASEAN ministerial Meeting, the statement called the executions as “highly reprehensible” as it “created a setback to and present a gross lack of will to support the efforts, particularly of the Asean Chair, in expediting progress on the implementation of the Five-Point Consensus”.

Asean has been highly critical of the coup, releasing its Five Point Consensus (5PC) in April 2021, and is a guideline for the de-escalation of the Myanmar crisis. An insurgency has reignited in the aftermath of the February 2021 coup, and continues to this day. The 5PC sought to end the violence, restart dialogue between the military and the elected government, with the help of an Asean appointed mediator.

The 5PC has been criticised for not going far enough but is notable for an organisation that has been traditionally reluctant to speak about, let alone take action on, the domestic political conflicts of its member states.

Cambodia, as the Asean Chair, expressed its wish "to echo the overwhelming voices within Asean and the international community in urging the authorities in Naypyidaw to take concrete actions to effectively and fully implement the 5PC".

The statement indicates that Myanmar’s military runs the risk of isolating its most strident advocate within Asean. Hun Sen had been the first international leader to visit Myanmar since the coup, visiting in January 2022 in his capacity as Asean Chair, and has repeatedly urged engagement with the Tatmadaw.

A "mockery" of the 5PC

Malaysian Foreign minister Saifuddin Abdullah, as reported by Reuters, echoed Asean’s condemnation and its timing ahead of the Asean meeting. Saifuddin said the executions were a “mockery of the five-point consensus”, and that Asean would need to “have a look at this very, very seriously”.

He also added that Asean should continue to bar Myanmar from any international ministerial level meetings until progress was made on a peace plan, and that Malaysia would present the framework of a peace plan for implementation at the upcoming Asean meeting.

He also hoped that Myanmar would stop executions, that “we will try to use whatever channel that we can to try and ensure that this will not happen again”.

Myanmar Responds

The spokesperson for the junta, Zaw Min Tun, responded on July 26, as reported by Reuters.

Characterising the executions as not personal, he said they were done as “justice for the people". He also denied that the men were "democracy activists", saying they were "criminals" who "were given the chance to defend themselves".

China yet to say anything about executions

The U.S. has condemned the military government's actions. U.S. State Department spokesman Ned Price described the executions as heinous, saying it "demonstrates the regime's brutality in a new and horrible light".

The U.S. has urged China to condemn the executions, as reported by the BBC.

While China has yet to respond to the executions, they can be expected to avoid criticising the junta over the issue, choosing to stand by the military government despite their actions which have been internationally condemned.

During an April 2022 visit by the Myanmar’s de facto Minister of Foreign Affairs, China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi said that China would back Myanmar “no matter how the situation changes”, according to the Associated Press.

However, it's worth noting that during the a reciprocal visit in the first week of July 2022, Wang also urged junta leaders to “pursue political reconciliation”, and to “restart the democratic transition process”, as was reported by the China Daily. He also urged Myanmar to adhere to Asean’s 5PC.

Top image adapted via Wikipedia