Myanmar executions are a grim portend
The Myanmar junta’s decision to hang four of its opponents, including two prominent pro-democracy activists, over the weekend has been met with a wave of opprobrium from around the world. The first executions in Myanmar since 1988 showed that the country’s military leadership cares very little about international sanctions and vociferous criticism of the coup it carried out last year to grab power from an elected government. Among those put to death were activist Ko Jimmy, who spent nearly half his life as a political prisoner, and Ko Phyo Zeya Thaw, a hip-hop star-turned-politician who was elected to parliament as a candidate of Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy. More troubling are reports that 114 people have been sentenced to death since the military seized power in February last year, triggering concerns about further executions. The trials of most pro-democracy activists have been conducted by military courts behind closed doors, raising questions about fairness and due process.
Since the powerful junta assumed power and began rolling back a decade of hard-won democratic reforms, it has turned a deaf ear to calls for restraint and dialogue to find a solution even from Myanmar’s neighbours in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean). Asean’s harsh rebuke of the executions, carried out a week before a ministerial meeting of the bloc, noted that they reflected the military’s lack of will to back a United Nations-supported peace plan. The path ahead for Myanmar, also grappling with serious security issues and an economic downturn, looks grim. India has refrained from any coercive measures while repeatedly nudging the junta to return to democracy, but may face renewed pressure from both Asean and the West to make a course correction. New Delhi has been loath to take a harder line for fears of pushing Myanmar closer to China, but such an approach may no longer be viable in the current circumstances.