Myanmar’s military government has reportedly handed down death sentences against seven Yangon students for taking part in anti-regime protests and participating in the resistance against the junta’s rule. According to a report in The Irrawaddy, seven Dagon University students – Khant Zin Win, Thura Maung Maung, Zaw Lin Naing, Thiha Htet Zaw, Hein Htet, Thet Paing Oo, and Khant Linn Maung Maung – were sentenced in closed trials by a military tribunal at Insein Prison on Wednesday.
Citing the Dagon University Students’ Union, the report stated that the seven were arrested in April for alleged involvement in the killing of Saw Moe Win, a former military officer who managed a branch of the state-owned (and hence, junta-linked) Global Treasure Bank, who was shot dead that month in South Dagon township. The exact charges were not specified in the report, though they are in many ways besides the point, given the baldly political function that these military tribunals serve.
In a statement yesterday, the Dagon University Students’ Union described the sentences as “an act of vengeance” by the military and said that it “highlights the tragic situation in the country’s courtrooms and the collapse of the entire legal system” since the coup of February 2021.
The Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP), which keeps a daily running total of those killed and imprisoned by the military government, reported that four other youths were also sentenced to death Wednesday, presumably also for anti-regime activities.
These sentences brought the total of those sentenced to death since last year’s coup to 132 as of December 1, according to AAPP’s figures. Of these, 90 are in custody and 42 have been sentenced to death in absentia. Most are university students, young professionals, and doctors, all of whom have come out against the coup in disproportionately large numbers.
It is unclear at this stage whether the military plans to carry out the sentences. Historically, Myanmar’s military governments have tended to commute most death sentences to life in prison, but in late July, the junta took the chilling step of executing four political prisoners, including veteran activist Phyo Zeyar Thaw, a lawmaker in the ousted National League for Democracy (NLD) government, and the veteran pro-democracy activist Ko Jimmy. All four were accused of carrying out “terror acts” against the military government. These were the first use of the death penalty since the late 1980s.
While the AAPP has confirmed that the military junta has killed at least 2,553 people since seizing power in February 2021, the executions were widely viewed as an escalation of the military government’s campaign of fear against the growing resistance to its rule, which has now grown shoots in all parts of the country, even in areas of central Myanmar that were once considered military strongholds.
In an editorial published a few days after the executions, The Irrawaddy warned the world that “Myanmar’s barbaric regime is planning to execute more political prisoners on death row in the coming days and weeks.” While it does not appear to have happened so far, the junta is in a position to escalate its war on a whim – and evidently has few compunctions about doing so.