TOKYO (THE YOMIURI SHIMBUN/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) – Pro-democracy activists were among the four people Myanmar’s military executed as it continues its oppressive rule. Atrocities that violate the rule of law and democracy must never be allowed.

The four executed had been calling for democratisation in defiance of the military, which took power in a coup in February last year. One was a former member of parliament who was close to Aung San Suu Kyi, the leader of a democratic administration before the coup, and another was a prominent pro-democracy activist.

A military tribunal set up by the junta handed death sentences to the former parliament member and other three on charges that they were involved in “terrorist acts,” including the killing of police officers, by supplying weapons to pro-democracy forces engaged in armed struggle.

The defendants were not given a legitimate opportunity to explain and defend themselves. Neither the date and time nor the details of how the executions were carried out have been disclosed. In reality, the military tribunal was in name only, and what was actually done was nothing but executions of political prisoners by the junta.

In March, Min Aung Hlaing, the commander in chief of the military, declared that he considered the pro-democracy forces terrorists and would “annihilate them all.” Since the coup, more than 2,000 civilians have reportedly been killed from being fired upon among other attacks by military personnel and police officers. In addition, more than 100 pro-democracy activists and others have reportedly been sentenced to death.

The commander in chief may be putting his annihilation declaration into action not only by killing people with bullets but also by executing political prisoners. This is a despicable, gross disregard for human life.

Even Cambodia, the current rotating chair of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean), which has an amicable relationship with the commander in chief, had called on the junta not to execute the four, condemning the executions as liable to set back the bloc’s efforts to assist Myanmar’s return to normality. The military, however, turned a deaf ear to the demand.

Asean should face up to the fact that its strategy of mediating dialogue between the junta and pro-democratic forces to turn the situation around has collapsed. There is a need to put pressure on the junta, through such measures as expulsion from Asean and application of sanctions, to force the military to change its behaviour.

The outrageous acts of Myanmar’s military, which is attempting to establish its rule by force, have spread as the junta takes advantage of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. While the United States and Europe have harshly criticised the military, Russia has continued to provide weapons to Myanmar and China has expressed its intention to step up economic assistance to its neighbour.

It has been shown once again that a world led by Russia and China means that law and order are destroyed and life is easily taken. The extension of the outrageous acts must be stopped. It is time for Japan, which has a responsibility for maintaining stability in Asia, to fundamentally review its Myanmar policy.

Unless the military complies with an immediate stop to the violence, a release of captives and an early restoration of the democratic system, Japan should partially suspend its economic cooperation projects or even withdraw from them.

  • The Yomiuri Shimbun is a member of The Straits Times media partner Asia News Network, an alliance of 22 news media organisations.