23 July 2023 marked one year since the executions executions of 88 Generation pro-democracy activist Jimmy and former National League for Democracy lawmaker Phyo Zeya Thaw, along with two anti-coup protesters, Hla Myo Aung and Aung Thura Zaw. It serves as a crucial reminder that numerous political prisoners still face extrajudicial executions, underscoring the urgency of the situation. It has become even more critical as arbitrary arrests are increasing while the conditions of activists inside prisons and detention centers remains dire. As of 24 July 2023, the Myanmar military junta has arbitrarily arrested at least 23,990 people since the failed coup attempt. In recent weeks, the families of Myanmar’s political prisoners have become increasingly concerned due to a series of incidents, with reports indicating that several detainees have been either killed or gone missing.
According to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP), in the last few weeks, there has been a significant rise in the number of political prisoners who have lost their lives due to torture during interrogations and within prison facilities. Most recently, AAPP reported the death of eight political prisoners from Daik-U Prison in Bago Region, after their families received letters from the prison authorities. Since 27 June, 37 political prisoners from Daik-U Prison, also known as Kyaiksakaw, have been missing after the junta claimed to be transferring them to another prison. On 7 and 8 July, an officer from Daik-U Prison sent letters to the families of Khant Linn Naing (Ko Khant) and Pyae Phyo Hein (Ko Pyae) to inform them they were shot dead during an attempt to escape. Six more political prisoners who went missing since prison transfer were later confirmed dead. AAPP noted in their statement that “prison transfers” are used as cover to remove inmates from prisons to be interrogated and killed. In an interview with Radio Free Asia, Ma Nilar Thein, wife of Jimmy, echoed AAPP’s statement, saying the junta uses the word “prison transfer” as an excuse for execution in order to avoid international pressure. She stated, “Since local and international communities seriously condemned the junta’s execution of political prisoners, I think they now try to avoid official execution that will cause criticism. So, they lawlessly kill our comrades on the purported excuse that they tried to escape.”
This alarming trend is not new. There are other similar cases of extrajudicial killings while under detention of the junta. On 6 July, two detainees Kaung Zarni Hein (La Pyae) and Kyaw Thura (E.T), accused of assassinating a pro-junta singer, Lily Naing Kyaw, were shot and killed by the military junta after being taken out of Insein Prison. These two detainees were reported to be affiliated with the Special Task Force, a local anti-junta guerrilla group. Prior to this, unknown gunmen suspected to be linked to the military junta killed the mother and sister of Kaung Zarni Hein at their house. Another case is Htay Lin Aung, a former deputy township administrator in Shan State’s Nawnghkio Township who joined the Civil Disobedience Movement (CDM). He died days after his arrest in March 2022, but his family only learned about his death recently. Similarly, the family of middleweight boxer, Tue Tue (Naga Marn), was notified of his death on 13 July, but he had already been tortured to death during interrogation on 26 April, according to AAPP.
Torture during interrogation takes place discreetly, away from public sight, in locations such as police stations, military interrogation centers and prisons. The recent AAPP report The Flow of Injustice sheds light on the ordeals faced by political prisoners, recounting brutal interrogations involving torture and inhumane treatment, as well as the enduring trauma they experience even after being released. The report provides the outside world with rare first-hand accounts of the experiences of political prisoners, reaffirming the torture and extrajudicial killings of detainees. A former political prisoner shared her experience of being interrogated and witnessing her husband’s death during interrogation, “I saw my dead husband. He looked like he was sleeping, but his face had a lot of injuries. His chest was recently opened as the blood was still fresh. He was wrapped in plastic, naked… They were so cruel. They did not even let him live after confessing.” At least 99 political prisoners have been reported killed during interrogations since the failed coup attempt, though the total figure is believed to be much higher due to the difficulties of comprehensive documentation.
The junta is encountering daily casualties in their military operations against the people’s resistance and Ethnic Revolutionary Organizations. Unsurprisingly, the military’s response has been consistent with its historical approach – scorched-earth campaigns and resorting to extreme violence. With growing despair, they are intensifying their campaign of mass atrocities against Myanmar populations. Political prisoners have become an easy target for them, given that they are confined behind walls under the junta’s complete control. In an alarming move, the junta is building two new prisons for political prisoners which, according to Radio Free Asia, will be run by the military. This development strongly points to the junta’s plan to carry out more arrests and further isolate political prisoners, therefore a high probability for a rise in incidents of torture and extrajudicial killings.
It is disappointing that the increasingly alarming concerns regarding the junta’s routine torture and extrajudicial killings of political prisoners do not receive sufficient or serious attention from both ASEAN and the broader international community. The world must not turn a blind eye to the ongoing heinous atrocities and terror inflicted on these activists within and beyond prison walls by the terrorist military junta. Clearly, these murders of political prisoners violate international laws. These crimes are made possible only due to the international community’s repeated failure to stop this terrorist military and hold the perpetrators to account. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has been unable to protect political prisoners inside Myanmar’s prisons. As a result, people have lost trust in the organization’s ability to implement their due mandate to address this dire situation adequately. As the people of Myanmar continue to stand firm in rejecting and resisting the military junta, meaningful actions from the international community are urgently needed. This cannot be addressed by ASEAN alone as it lacks the political and institutional capacity necessary to tackle the political, human rights and humanitarian crises of such magnitude that Myanmar is facing. Its ineffectual implementation of the Five-Point Consensus over the past two years is constant proof of this. Rather, a concrete step to address the crisis would require the UN Security Council to adopt a resolution under Chapter VII of the UN Charter. This resolution should include targeted economic sanctions, a global arms embargo, and a referral of Myanmar’s situation to the International Criminal Court, as repeatedly called for by civil society organizations.
 One year following the 1988 pro-democracy uprising, the former military junta changed the country’s name from Burma to Myanmar overnight. Progressive Voice uses the term ‘Myanmar’ in acknowledgement that most people of the country use this term. However, the deception of inclusiveness and the historical process of coercion by the former State Peace and Development Council military regime into usage of ‘Myanmar’ rather than ‘Burma’ without the consent of the people is recognized and not forgotten. Thus, under certain circumstances, ‘Burma’ is used.
By ALTSEAN-Burma, FORUM-ASIA and Progressive Voice
By Burma Campaign UK
By Burma Campaign UK
By Burma Human Rights Network
By Council of the European Union
By General Strike Collaboration Committee
By Human Rights Watch
By Justice For Myanmar
By Burma News International – Myanmar Peace Monitor
By United Kingdom (Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office)
Progressive Voice is a participatory, rights-based policy research and advocacy organization that was born out of Burma Partnership. Burma Partnership officially ended its work on October 10, 2016 transitioning to a rights-based policy research and advocacy organization called Progressive Voice. For further information, please see our press release “Burma Partnership Celebrates Continuing Regional Solidarity for Burma and Embraces the Work Ahead for Progressive Voice.”