Cardinal Charles Maung Bo of Yangon in Myanmar appealed to the country’s ruling military junta not to push through with the imposition of the death sentence on activists and political dissenters.
“As Cardinal of Myanmar I plead — from the very depths of my heart — with the junta, not to hang these men, and I appeal to the world to act,” said the prelate during an international “peacebuilding” conference on June 20.
“If the regime goes through with this, it marks a new low for this already brutal, barbaric, inhumane and criminal junta,” said the cardinal.
Following last year’s military coup that ousted the country’s elected government, Myanmar’s junta-led courts have issued a deluge of death sentences on political dissenters.
Early this month, junta deputy information minister, Maj. Gen. Zaw Min Tun, rejected the possibility for pardons in the cases of former National League for Democracy lawmaker Phyo Zeyar Thaw and 88 Generation leader Ko Jimmy who were sentenced to death for violating the country’s Anti-Terrorism Law.
Two other men — Hla Myo Aung and Aung Thura Zaw — were sentenced to death in Yangon region’s Hlaing Tharyar township on charges of murder. All four lost appeals of their cases.
The four death sentences, as well 111 others that have been handed down by junta courts between the military’s Feb. 1, 2021, coup, and May 19 this year, have drawn criticism from legal experts and rights groups, who say the regime is threatening the public with unfair executions.
A total of 115 people were sentenced to death between Feb. 1, 2021, and May 19, 2022, according to data compiled by Radio Free Asia based on figures released by the military regime.
Last month, the junta sentenced seven youths to death in Yangon region after a secret military tribunal found them guilty of murder, a junta newspaper reported.
In its latest annual report covering the judicial use of the death penalty for the period January to December 2021, Amnesty International found that dozens of people were “arbitrarily sentenced to death” by Myanmar’s military tribunals.
The group said that prior to February 2021, Myanmar’s known death sentences were sporadically imposed for murder and usually commuted through mass pardons.
However, the yearly average for the years 2017-2020 had remained lower than 10.
Cardinal Bo said that while the military has killed thousands of people, “it has not used the death penalty judicially in more than three decades.”
“The peoples of Myanmar, for over a year, have endured a triple whammy of crisis, with suffering as a consequence of COVID-19, coup and conflict,” said the Church leader.
“And in the midst of this crisis, the Church is again enduring its Calvary,” he said, adding that “so many of our churches have been bombed, desecrated or damaged, priests and lay people arrested, tortured, killed, Church NGOs restricted or targeted.”
According to Thai-based rights group Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (Burma), 13,926 people have been arrested between the start of the coup and June 2 this year. It says 10,870 people are still being held in detention while 3,035 have been freed and 21 released on bail.
The group, founded by exiled former political prisoners, says 1,087 people were sentenced in person and 72 of those, including two children, were sentenced to death. Another 120 people were sentenced in absentia with 41 receiving the death penalty. – with an RFA report