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TAPOL statement on the execution of political prisoners in Myanmar

3 August, 2022

We condemn the execution of four political prisoners in Myanmar, Kyaw Min Yu, Phyo Zeya Thaw, Hla Myo Aung and Aung Thura Zaw. The four were convicted in a secret military court.  Member states of the United Nations and multilateral blocs from within the international community have denounced the executions. But international reactions have been basically in line with a position since the military's coup d'etat in February 2021. There has been criticism, followed by inaction and in some cases, indifference. More must be done to end the Myanmar military's illegal power grab. There are 100 political prisoners on death row in Myanmar; only a strong and coordinated intervention by the international community, as well as actions which go beyond well-meaning representations, will stop yet more suffering for the people of Myanmar and untimely and unjust deaths.    

The four who were executed were accused of 'terrorism'. As an organisation that has campaigned for human rights, democracy and against militarism in Indonesia for 50 years, we are struck by the parallels between the misuse of anti-terror laws in Myanmar and the same recent developments in Indonesia. In March 2021, the West Papuan armed resistance group, TPNPB (Tentara Pembebasan Nasional Papua Barat, the National Liberation Army of West Papua) was classified as a terrorist organisation by the Government. This showed that the government and its security establishment was ready to extend the scope of laws usually used for Islamist terror cells to pro-independence groups, marking a return to policy last seen under Indonesia's own military dictatorship.

The effects of the policy have been to increase conflict and more widely to cause internal displacement of civilians, not to protect civilians which the policy claims to do. Unlike the situation in Myanmar, there has been hardly any recognition of the scale of displacement or its causes by the international community although UN Special Rapporteurs regularly deliver reports highlighting unlawful killings, displacement, and torture among other violations of human rights. The security forces have used anti-terror laws to smear civilian nonviolent activists as collaborating with armed groups without providing evidence.[1]

At international fora, the Indonesian Government has tried to play the role of peacemaker between Russia and Ukraine, most recently at the G20 meeting held in Bali and previously during President Joko Widodo's fruitless visit to both Kyiv and Moscow. Its pretensions in this role and its previous criticism of the Myanmar military's coup via ASEAN, do not ring true when the dire situation in West Papua is taken into account. There, the authorities are effectively operating in cahoots with hawkish ministers, the security establishment and the military in insisting that a long-running insurgency can be stamped out by classifying the insurgents as 'terrorists'; and increasing the frequency and intensity of military operations.  

Added to the use of anti-terror laws to silence dissent, treason charges have been regularly misused against civilian nonviolent activists in West Papua. Terrorism and treason are the same charges that Myanmar's executed political activists were convicted of. Indonesia cannot be a credible Chair of ASEAN next year and continue to make the same criticisms of Myanmar’s military regime when it is still using the same laws as those used in Myanmar to persecute political activists in its own country.    

Along with the effective denial of access to international media, the Government of Indonesia clearly hopes to preserve West Papua's low profile on the international stage in contrast to that of Myanmar. It must also hope that it will not again face massive civil disobedience as it did during the 2019 West Papua Uprising: this would not be a good look for its politicians as they posture as peacemakers.