Leading Democracy Activists Executed in Myanmar – 4 Key Things to Know

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(THE CONVERSATION) The current conflict in Myanmar sparked new international concern when the country’s military announced on July 25, 2022 that it had executed four pro-democracy activists and political prisoners.

The high-profile killings were the latest signal that the civil conflict in the Southeast Asian country is worsening, nearly 18 months after the military staged a coup and overthrew the democratically elected government in February 2021.


The army killed two prominent political leaders who opposed the junta – Kyaw Min Yu, a writer and activist known as Jimmy, and Phyo Zeya Thaw, a hip-hop musician turned lawmaker under the former political regime – citing counter-terrorism charges.

Two other people – Hla Myo Aung and Aung Thura Zaw – were executed after being found guilty of murdering a woman they believed to be a military informant.

The executions follow a recent report by human rights group Amnesty International that the army is laying landmines in residential areas to injure and kill civilians.

I am a specialist in the politics and culture of Myanmar. Here are four key points to help unravel the country’s complicated conflict and the meaning behind the executions.

The military government sends a message

The political executions of these activists were the first in many decades for Myanmar, which has moved from military control to emerging democratic leadership in recent decades. The military wants to send a message to other citizens – and to the world – for which it is responsible.

But behind a thin veneer of scrutiny, the army’s fears of public opposition and uprisings can be detected by Myanmar residents and outside observers alike.

Soldiers overthrew Aung San Suu Kyi, Myanmar’s former leader and foreign minister, in early 2021 and initially placed her under house arrest.

The coup sparked a wave of protests across the country – more than 4,700 anti-coup events were reported by the end of June 2021. The military responded with mass arrests and killings civilians.

The army then sent Aung San Suu Kyi to prison on multiple corruption charges in April 2022, which the non-profit organization Human Rights Watch called “false”.

The execution of four revolutionary leaders will likely intensify national resistance to the military.

The complicated history of the conflict

When the military staged the 2021 coup, the generals miscalculated.

Aung San Suu Kyi’s political party, the National League for Democracy, won a landslide victory over the military-backed opposition in November 2020. Military generals demanded another election, offering little evidence of irregularities, but recognizing that power was slipping out of their hands.

Military representatives still held 25% of seats in parliament due to the constitution, but without their allied political parties their political influence was limited.

At the time, there was a global pandemic. The economy has slowed down.

The generals probably hoped the coup would be just a smooth transition to the old system – before Aung San Suu Kyi’s party was first elected in 2015 – when the different generations of generals had controlled everything from 1962.

But the coming to power of the National League for Democracy has led to many positive changes, especially in the heart of the country, where a major ethnic group, the Bamar, lives. The country’s gross domestic product, an indicator of economic growth, also hit an all-time high in 2020.

Many could see that life was improving for them and for their children. The generals had not foreseen the outrage that would follow the coup.

How the political resistance unfolded

The first days of peaceful protests after the coup quickly turned into armed resistance when the army failed to respect the demands of the people to return power to the government they elected.

UN human rights experts have said the military junta is a “criminal enterprise” that systematically commits murder, torture and enforced disappearances. The junta also blocked access to numerous social media sites, such as Facebook, and engaged in widespread human rights abuses, including attacks on civilians, according to the UN.

Many young people joined revolutionary ethnic groups, many of whom had been fighting the army since 1948, when Myanmar – then known as Burma – became independent from British rule.

Ethnic armies support young people who decide to join the resistance, house them, feed them and train them.

Meanwhile, some Myanmar citizens have donated their income, homes and cars to help support revolutionary groups. It has become popular for people to visit websites and play online games created by tech developers in Myanmar – generating money that goes to these groups.

This circumvents the army’s crackdown on mobile money transfers to members of armed groups and the closure of many banks.

The army also loses some territorial control, as more and more regions slowly form their own administrations, which the army does not recognize.

Other countries mostly stay out of this

The United States and other major powers were largely absent as Myanmar experienced a coup and subsequent political and economic crisis.

While Myanmar’s military continues to receive military support and supplies from Russia, other countries have taken a wait-and-see approach.

One of the reasons is that Myanmar’s situation is internal and its army does not fight other countries. Today, hundreds of internal groups in Myanmar are fighting for their vested interests, including the territory.

I believe that no clear winner will emerge from this civil war – and organizing little or no interference has been the general position of the international community. The people of Myanmar interpreted this position as willful ignorance of their fate.

There are, however, some symbolic victories for the opposition thanks to international engagement.

Ousted political leaders from the National League for Democracy and others against the junta formed a new shadow government, the National Unity Government, in May 2021. Most of their top members operate “undercover or through the intermediary of overseas-based members,” according to CNN.

The UN has not officially recognized the national unity government, but has allowed representatives to speak at the UN on Myanmar’s behalf.

The United States has hosted delegations from the national unity government several times – but it has yet to release the billion dollars that Myanmar’s previous government held in a US Federal Reserve Bank.

The government of national unity and the army claim rights over this money.

An uncertain future

The coup triggered an economic collapse, plunging Myanmar’s currency to a historic low.

Many citizens of Myanmar feel trapped in the entrenched war.

The country is fast forward to the past, when it was deeply isolated from the world. And there is no clear end in sight to the conflict.

The army held peace talks in April and May, but less than half of the country’s 21 main ethnic armed groups took part.

Many of these groups, as well as the newly formed Armed People’s Defense Forces, part of the national unity government, have vowed to continue fighting, especially after the executions. Because of their determination, many people in the country feel the future is uncertain – but not hopeless.

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article here: https://theconversation.com/top-democracy-activists-were-executed-in-myanmar-4-key-things-to-know-187671.