Top democracy activists were executed in Myanmar – 4 key things to know

The current conflict in Myanmar raised 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 deepening, almost 18 months after the military staged a coup and overtook the democratically elected government in February 2021.

The military killed two leading 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 old political regime – citing counterterrorism charges.

Two other people – Hla Myo Aung and Aung Thura Zaw – were executed after they were convicted of killing a woman who they reportedly thought was a military informer.

The executions follow a recent report from human rights group Amnesty International that the military is laying land mines in residential areas to hurt and kill civilians.

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

The military government is sending a message

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

But behind a thin veneer of control, the military’s fears of public opposition and uprisings can be detected by people in Myanmar and outside observers alike.

Soldiers overthrew Aung San Suu Kyi, the former leader and foreign minister of Myanmar, in early 2021 and first placed her under house arrest.

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

The military then sent Aung San Suu Kyi to prison on multiple corruption charges in April 2022 that the nonprofit Human Rights Watch has called “bogus.”

Executing four revolutionary leaders will likely escalate nationwide resistance to the military.

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