A military tribunal in Myanmar has sentenced 19 people to death for killing a member of the military and wounding another, the military-owned Myawaddy TV station reported Friday night, 9 April, in what is believed to be the junta’s first use of the death penalty since declaring martial law last month.
The defendants are accused of attacking the two military personnel and others with knives and clubs in Yangon’s North Okkalapa township during the armed forces day holiday on March 27. They reportedly took a motorcycle and a gun from the assailed personnel.
The sentence was handed down Thursday, according to state media. Of the 19 people tried, 17 remain at large and are on a wanted list.
In areas of Yangon that are under martial law, including North Okkalapa, serious crimes are brought before military tribunals. Appealing to a higher court is not an option, but the commander-in-chief Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing can commute or reverse a death sentence, and the regional commander can do so for lesser sentences.
Before the coup, Myanmar had imposed the death penalty but had carried out no executions for three decades.
March 27 was one of the bloodiest days of the ongoing crackdown on protesters. A total of 618 people had been killed by security forces as of Friday since the coup, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners.
Junta spokesman Brigadier General Zaw Min Tun told a news conference in the capital, Naypyitaw, that the country was returning to normal and government ministries and banks would resume full operations soon.
More than 600 people have been killed by security forces cracking down on protests against the coup, according to an activist group. The country has ground to a standstill because of the protests and widespread strikes against military rule.
“The reason for reducing protests is due to the cooperation of people who want peace, which we value,” Zaw Min Tun said. “We request people to cooperate with security forces and help them.”
He said the military had recorded 248 deaths, and he denied that automatic weapons had been used. Sixteen policemen had also been killed, he said.
The Assistance Association for Political Prisoners activist group has said that 614 people, including 48 children, had been killed by security forces since the coup, as of Thursday evening. More than 2,800 were in detention, it said.
“We are humbled by their courage and dignity,” a group of 18 ambassadors in Myanmar said of the protesters in a joint statement.
“We stand together to support the hopes and aspirations of all those who believe in a free, just, peaceful and democratic Myanmar. Violence has to stop, all political detainees must be released and democracy must be restored.”
The statement was signed by the ambassadors of the United States, Britain, the EU, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Korea, Switzerland and several other European nations.
“The suggestions from neighbouring countries and big countries and powerful people in politics, we respect them,” Zaw Min Tun said.
He also accused members of deposed leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s national league of democracy of arson and said the protest campaign was being financed by foreign money, but he gave no details.
Suu Kyi and many of her party colleagues have been in custody since the coup.
Zaw Min Tun said reports that some members of the international community did not recognize the military government were “fake news.”
“We are cooperating with foreign countries and working together with neighbouring countries,” the spokesman said.
Ousted Myanmar lawmakers urged the United Nations Security Council on Friday to take action against the military.
“Our people are ready to pay any cost to get back their rights and freedom,” said Zin Mar Aung, who has been appointed acting foreign minister for a group of ousted lawmakers. She urged council members to apply both direct and indirect pressure on the junta.