Myanmar courts reject prominent death row appeals, order first death by hanging

Myanmar’s junta-led courts have rejected appeals by a deposed lawmaker and a prominent former activist of their death sentences on “terrorism” charges, an official told RFA, while a young man became the latest of dozens sentenced to death since the coup last year and the first ordered to die by hanging.

The failed appeals and new verdict come amid a surge in death sentences under martial law in Myanmar, where the military has transferred the authority to try cases of civilians to special or existing military tribunals, resulting in what rights groups say are summary proceedings with no chance of appeal.

The last execution in Myanmar — that of student leader Salai Tin Maung Oo — was known to take place in 1988, during the time of the late Gen. Ne Win, according to London-based rights group Amnesty International.

Former National League for Democracy (NLD) lawmaker Phyo Zeyar Thaw, 88 Generation leader Ko Jimmy, and two others lost appeals of their death sentences, junta deputy minister of information, Maj. Gen. Zaw Min Tun, said Friday, adding that their executions would be carried out “in accordance with prison rules.”

“Once the death penalty is imposed, there are procedural steps to follow. An appeal must be made. When the appeal is turned down and the sentence upheld, the death penalty will be carried out,” he said.

“These steps are all complete. Therefore, as the death penalty has been confirmed, we will continue in accordance with the procedures.”

According to the junta, Phyo Zeyar Thaw and Ko Jimmy maintained contact with Myanmar’s shadow National Unity Government (NUG), Committee Representing the People’s Parliament (CRPP), and other organizations labeled “terrorist groups” by the military regime and had carried out “acts of violence.”

The two men were charged under Section 49 (a) of the Anti-Terrorism Law and sentenced to death by a military tribunal on Jan. 21.

The two others whose appeals were rejected are Hla Myo Aung and Aung Thura Zaw, who were sentenced to death in Yangon region’s Hlaing Tharyar township on charges of murder.

A veteran lawyer who spoke to RFA on condition of anonymity said that executions typically take place within 45 days of a ruling to uphold a death sentence.

“When all channels are exhausted, the [regional] commander has to give the execution order,” he said. “At this stage, the chief of the military tribunal and the prison authorities must work together to set a date for the execution.”

Death by hanging


Meanwhile, sources confirmed to RFA on Friday that a 24-year-old man has been sentenced to death by hanging by the Tachileik District Court in Myanmar's eastern Shan State.

Aik Sai Main, an ethnic Wa from Waine Kyauk Ward, Tachileik city, was arrested by police along with 21-year-old Htin Lin Aung on suspicion of bombing a pro-military rally on Feb. 1 this year.

Four months later, the junta-run Tachileik District Court sentenced him on Wednesday to death by hanging under Section 54 of the Anti-Terrorism Law and Section 368 (1) of the Criminal Procedure Code, according to a source familiar with the court proceedings who did not want to be named for safety reasons.

“It is true that he was sentenced to the death penalty by hanging. We investigated that in the District Court,” the source told RFA. “Family members could not come to the venue. They will be so upset. We ethnic groups are saddened by the junta’s arbitrary arrests and verdicts without any evidence.”

Htin Lin Aung was sentenced to seven years in prison on Thursday under Section 52 (a) of the Anti-Terrorism Law.

The bomb blast near a military rally in Tachileik on Feb. 1 killed four people and wounded more than 30 others. The bombing came exactly one year after a military coup against an elected civilian government that prompted mass protests and then escalating violence across the country after the military used extreme force to quell the protests.

In the past, the death penalty imposed by the junta has been based mainly on anti-terrorism laws. This is the first case of its kind since the coup to include Section 368 (a) of the Criminal Procedure Code, which imposes death by hanging.

Section 54 of the Anti-Terrorism Law, which was handed down at the trial, provides for a minimum sentence of 10 years and maximum sentence of life imprisonment or death.

Section 368 (a) of the Code of Criminal Procedure stipulates that when the death penalty is given the person must be executed by hanging.

A lawyer who declined to be named for security reasons described the verdict as a harsh sentence, noting that Section 368 (a) of the Criminal Procedure Code allows an appeal.

“It gives the right to appeal to the Supreme Court within seven days, whether the sentence is death or death by hanging. Even if the family does not appeal, the prison authorities can appeal on behalf of the victim. Section 368 (1) of the Code of Criminal Procedure stipulates that the death penalty must be imposed by hanging until death.”

Junta Deputy Minister Zaw Min Tun told a press conference in the capital Naypyidaw on Wednesday the death penalty was a just punishment.

Surge in death sentences

Legal experts have criticized the junta for threatening the public with unfair executions.

A total of 115 people, including Aik Sai Main, were sentenced to death between Feb. 1, 2021, and May 19, 2022, according to data compiled by RFA based on figures released by the military regime.

Last month, Myanmar’s junta sentenced seven youths to death in Yangon region after a secret military tribunal found them guilty of murder, a junta newspaper reported.

In its latest annual report covering the judicial use of the death penalty for the period January to December 2021, Amnesty International found that dozens of people were “arbitrarily sentenced to death” by Myanmar’s military tribunals, “several without the defendants being present, in what was widely perceived as a way to target political opponents and protestors.”

The group said that prior to February 2021, Myanmar’s known death sentences were sporadically imposed for murder and usually commuted through mass pardons. However, the yearly average for the years 2017-2020 had remained lower than 10.

Bo Bo Oo, chairman of the NLD in Yangon’s Sanchaung township, told RFA that the junta is not a legitimate government and therefore has no authority to enforce the death penalty.

“It is not legal to do this. The prison court handed down the sentences without a public trial,” he said. “Under international law, a de facto government cannot carry out an execution. This junta has no authority to do such things.”

According to Thai-based rights group Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (Burma), 13,926 people have been arrested between the start of the coup and June 2 this year. It says 10,870 people are still being held in detention while 3,035 have been freed and 21 released on bail.

The group, founded by exiled former political prisoners, says 1,087 people were sentenced in person and 72 of those, including two children, were sentenced to death. Another 120 people were sentenced in absentia with 41 receiving the death penalty.

Translated by Khin Maung Nyane. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.