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France on Monday "strongly condemned" the execution of four political prisoners in Myanmar, calling the killings "a major regression" for the country's military regime. It is the Asian country's first use of capital punishment in decades.
Myanmar's military rulers have executed four prisoners, including a former member of parliament from ousted leader Aung San Suu Kyi's party, and a prominent human rights activist, state media said Monday.
"Even though no execution has taken place in the country for more than 30 years, these executions constitute a major regression and another phase in the escalating atrocities committed by the Burmese junta since the coup d'etat," a statement from the French foreign ministry said.
The executions sparked widespread condemnation, and have heightened fears that more death sentences will be carried out.
According to the state-controlled newspaper Global New Light of Myanmar, the four, Phyo Zeyar Thaw, Kyaw Min Yu, alias "Ko Jimmy," Hla Myo Aung and Aung Thura Zaw were involved in "brutal murder cases" and "gave directives, made arrangements, and committed conspiracies for brutal and inhuman terror acts such as murdering, many innocent people."
The article does not give details as to how the four were executed.
Crackdown on dissent
According to New York-based Human Rights Watch, "a military tribunal sentenced Ko Jimmy and Phyo Zeya Thaw to death on 21 January under Myanmar’s Counterterrorism Law of 2014. Hla Myo Aung and Aung Thura Zaw were convicted in April 2021 for allegedly killing a military informant."
Phyo Zeya Thaw is a former lawmaker from Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy (NLD) who was arrested in November. He was sentenced to death in January, accused of orchestrating several attacks on regime forces, including a gun attack on a commuter train in Yangon in August that killed five policemen.
A hip-hop pioneer whose subversive rhymes irked the previous junta, he was jailed in 2008 for membership in an illegal organisation and possession of foreign currency.
Democracy activist Kyaw Min Yu rose to prominence during Myanmar's 1988 student uprising against the country's previous military regime, was arrested in an overnight raid in October.
He also received a death sentence from the military tribunal.
The junta has sentenced dozens of anti-coup activists to death as part of its crackdown on dissent after seizing power last year, but Myanmar had not carried out an execution for decades.
Family members gathered outside Yangon's Insein prison after news of the executions was published.
A junta spokesman could not be reached for comment.
'Outraged and devastated'
The United Nations' Special Rapporteur on Myanmar Tom Andrews said he was "outraged and devastated by the news.
"These depraved acts must be a turning point ... what more must the junta do before the international community is willing to take strong action?"
Two other men were sentenced to death for killing a woman they alleged was an informer for the junta in Yangon.
Human Rights Watch said the executions were an "act of utter cruelty".
Amnesty International said they were an "atrocious escalation in state repression" and warned around 100 others were currently on death row after being convicted in junta courts.
The junta was heavily criticised by international powers last month when it announced its intention to carry out the executions.
United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres condemned the junta's decision, calling it "a blatant violation of the right to life, liberty and security of person".
The junta has slammed criticism from the UN and western countries as "irresponsible and reckless."
UN rights experts said that if the executions went ahead, for the first time in Myanmar since 1988, it could mark the start of a spate of capital killings.
The experts said that under the junta's martial law provisions, the death penalty could be given for 23 "vague and broadly defined offences," which in practice could include any criticism of the military.
Myanmar expert Richard Horsey of the International Crisis Group (ICG) said on Twitter that the executions were "an outrageous act. And one that will create political shockwaves, now and for a long time to come".
"The National League for Democracy is devastated," Suu Kyi's NLD party said in a statement condeming the "outrageous crime" committed by the junta.
The country's military alleged voter fraud during elections in 2020, which the NLD won by a landslide, as justification for its coup on 1 February last year.
Suu Kyi has been detained since then and faces a slew of charges in a junta court that could see her face a prison sentence of more than 150 years.