Family members of Myanmar university students sentenced to death plead with junta courts to call off executions

Parents of seven Dagon University students recently handed death sentences by the junta said that over the past week they had submitted multiple appeals and pleas for leniency to every level of the junta’s court system on behalf of the young men, but had received no response. 

The students in question—Thura Maung Maung, Thiha Htet Zaw, Hein Htet, Khant Zin Win, Zaw Lin Naing, Thet Paing Oo and Khant Lin Maung Maung—are all in their 20s. On November 30, they were sentenced to death by a military tribunal inside Yangon’s Insein Prison under Sections 34 and 302a of the Penal Code for conspiracy to commit murder. 

They were accused and convicted of involvement in the assassination of retired Lt-Col Saw Moe Win, who was also a manager of the Global Treasure Bank, earlier this year. 

“At this point, I wouldn’t mind if they changed their sentences to life or 20 years,” Hein Htet’s father, Thein Shwe, said. 

Despite multiple rumours circulating regarding their execution date, no information had been verified at the time of reporting. 

“We’ve been told that there is no hope for them but we do know that our children’s lives are in the hands of the military council. I just wish I could see him again, for a moment,” Zaw Lin’s mother told Myanmar Now, crying. 

The family members said that they went to Insein Prison to deliver care packages to their children on December 3, but were unable to learn any updates on their cases or condition. 

“We are able to send them letters and care packages once every 14 days, and they always write to us about their health,” Thein Shwe said. “However, our letters won’t be delivered to them if we mention things other than this. And if they mention anything other than their own health status, these parts are censored by the prison authorities before the letters reach us.” 

Anti-coup organisations, Myanmar student unions, and international student associations have condemned military death sentences handed out to 139 people since the February 2021 coup. The figure includes the seven men from Dagon University, according to the United Nations and the monitoring group Assistance Association for Political Prisoners.

They have called on the international community to take action against the junta to halt the executions. 

In a December 5 statement, Human Rights Watch (HRW) condemned the sentencing of the Dagon University students and called on the military council to “impose a moratorium on the death penalty” in the country. 

“Myanmar’s junta should immediately commute the sentences of all those facing the death penalty, a cruel punishment that most of the world rejects,” Manny Maung, HRW’s Myanmar researcher, said in the statement. 

Volker Türk, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, remarked in a December 2 statement that the Myanmar regime had been using death sentences as a “political tool” to crush the resistance to military rule. 

In doing so, he said, “the military confirms its disdain for the efforts by ASEAN and the international community at large to end violence and create the conditions for a political dialogue to lead Myanmar out of a human rights crisis created by the military.”

In July, the junta sparked outrage when it executed four political prisoners, including veteran activist Ko Jimmy and Phyo Zayar Thaw, former MP for the ousted National League for Democracy.

It was the first time in decades that the death penalty had been carried out in Myanmar.

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