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Renewed calls for Myanmar junta to end death penalty

Closed court sentences seven students from Yangon’s Dagon University to death

People walk outside Insein prison in Yangon on November 17, 2022

People walk outside Insein prison in Yangon on November 17, 2022. (Photo: AFP)

Published: December 07, 2022 11:05 AM GMT

Updated: December 07, 2022 12:26 PM GMT

The Myanmar junta’s recent handing down of the death sentence on university students has prompted renewed calls for the international community to pressure the military regime to end capital punishment.

Seven students from Yangon’s Dagon University who reportedly participated in anti-coup protests and resistance to the junta were among the 10 prisoners who received the death penalty last week from grossly unjust closed-door trials.

The latest move by the junta brought the number of those on death row to 139 since the military coup on Feb. 1, 2021, according to the United Nations.

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Ignoring appeals from world leaders, the junta executed four political prisoners including prominent National League for Democracy lawmaker Phyo Zayar Thaw and Ko Jimmy, leader of the 88 Generation pro-democracy group, in July. It sparked outrage among the international community.

The executions, which made a comeback after more than three decades in the conflict-stricken nation, are an attempt to instill fear among those offering strong resistance to military rule, rights groups say.

UN Human Rights Chief Volker Turk has expressed shock that more than 130 people have now been sentenced to death by military courts behind closed doors following fresh convictions last week.

“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,” Turk said.

He also called for the suspension of all executions and a return to a moratorium on the death penalty.

Rights groups have urged the junta to immediately commute the death sentences recently slapped on 10 prisoners and to impose a moratorium on the death penalty with the aim of abolishing capital punishment in the country.

“Myanmar’s junta should immediately commute the sentences of all those facing the death penalty, a cruel punishment that most of the world rejects,” Manny Maung, Myanmar researcher at Human Right Watch, said.

“For those governments that have hesitated to impose targeted sanctions against the junta for its long list of rights violations, the new death sentences should be a clear signal to take action now,” she said.

“Myanmar's junta’s threats are aligned with military courts that have continually failed to protect any basic principles of fair trial process or to demonstrate independence and impartiality,” Ko Bo Kyi, co-founder of advocacy group the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP), said.

At least 16,000 people have been arrested and more than 13,000 remain in detention while over 2,500 people have been killed since last February’s coup, according to the AAPP.

The junta has ramped up its abuses and continues committing atrocities such as mass killings, torture, arbitrary arrests and indiscriminate attacks on civilians which the UN said amount to crimes against humanity and war crimes.

Backed by the UN, the US and the European Union, ASEAN has been leading diplomatic efforts to tackle Myanmar’s political crisis but has been ineffective in pressuring the military regime.

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