UN rights chief slams Myanmar death penalty cases

More than 130 people have been sentenced to death in secret closed-door trials held by Myanmar’s military junta since it seized power last year, a top U.N. official said Friday, calling the pattern a “political tool to crush opposition.”

The closed-door trials are a violation of people’s basic right to due process and a fair trial, U.N. human rights chief Volker Türk said.

Death sentences have been handed out to 139 people since the military seized power, Türk said, with the regime carrying out its first executions in about three decades in July.

“The military continues to hold proceedings in secretive courts in violation of basic principles of fair trial and contrary to core judicial guarantees of independence and impartiality,” Türk said, calling for a suspension of the use of the death penalty.

The comments came after at least seven student activists were sentenced to death on Wednesday, with sources telling Radio Free Asia their execution was set for Dec. 7. The junta accuses them killing a retired army officer at a bank, but the trial by a military court took place behind closed doors in Insein Prison.

The Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (Burma) says a total of 16,472 people have been arrested by the military junta since the February 2021 coup, with 13,002 still in prison.

Türk said the use of the death penalty showed the regime’s “disdain” for global efforts to end the violence in Myanmar, including the Five-Point Consensus the regime signed with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations last year.