(Bangkok) – Myanmar junta military courts have sentenced 65 people to death following unfair trials since the February 1, 2021 military coup, Human Rights Watch said today. State media and local groups reported that 26 of those sentenced are currently in detention, while 39 have been sentenced in absentia.

Military courts have handed down death sentences in areas of Yangon where the junta declared martial law in March. By imposing martial law, the junta transferred all executive and judicial powers to the head of the relevant regional military command and instituted the death penalty as a possible punishment for 23 crimes.

“The Burmese junta has added to its mass shootings of demonstrators in the streets by passing dozens of death sentences by military courts after manifestly unfair trials,” said Shayna Bauchner, Asia researcher at Human Rights Watch. “Seemingly intended to cool the protest movement against the coup, these death sentences should serve as a clear warning to foreign governments that urgent action is needed to show the junta that there will be an account for its crimes. “

On March 14 and 15, the junta of the State Administration Council (SAC) declared martial law in 11 townships in Yangon and Mandalay, after a weekend in which security forces killed around 120 people during anti-coup protests. Yangon’s commander, Major General Nyunt Win Swe, has been granted oversight of all administrative and judicial powers in the designated townships of Yangon.

Martial law orders set out 23 categories of crimes to be charged by military courts in designated townships, all of which carry a death penalty. The designated offenses include several put in place by the junta since the coup. The majority are not capital crimes in civil courts. The 65 death sentences were handed down for murder under Articles 302, 396 and 397 of the Criminal Code.

Martial law regulations require that the President of the SAC, Sr. Gen. Min Aung Hlaing, approves all work orders. They also specify that there is “no appeal against decisions or sentences handed down” by a military tribunal. The only option for defendants on death row is to ask the president of the SAC within 15 days of the conviction to overturn the decision. Min Aung Hlaing has the power to overturn the decision, change the sentence to a lesser sentence, or approve the decision. Applications can only be made through prison officials, not lawyers, Radio Free Asia reported.

Work orders were issued in six batches between April and June. The hasty and covert legal proceedings against civilians by military courts not duly convened in accordance with the law have seriously deprived detainees and those convicted in absentia of their basic rights to a fair trial. Military courts in Myanmar have long been conducted behind closed doors inside Insein Prison in Yangon, where the rules of evidence and procedure applicable in civilian courts do not apply. Those tried in military courts face an almost certain conviction regardless of the validity of the charges against them, while trials take place outside the control of the public or the international community.

In the junta’s first death penalty case, state media reported that 18 men and a woman were sentenced to death on April 8 for allegedly attacking two military officers on motorcycles, one of whom died later in North Okkalapa County in Yangon on March 27. The 19 people were convicted under Articles 396 and 397 of the Criminal Code for murder and theft. Another man was sentenced to death on April 28 for the same incident. Three of the convicts are in detention; the others were sentenced in absentia.

A Yangon military court sentenced two women and five men to death on April 12 under article 302 (1) (b) of the penal code for their alleged involvement in the murder of a woman in Hlaing Tharyar township. who would have supported the army. Four are detained; three others were sentenced in absentia.

On May 24, the Insein Prison Military Court sentenced 18 people – 15 men, a woman and 2 teenagers – to death under Article 302 (1) (c) of the Criminal Code for allegedly killing a partisan of the army on March 29 in Dagon du Sud. Seven are hiding; eleven were arrested. The two teenagers, aged 17 and 15, were arrested on April 17. State media reported that they had been transferred to a juvenile court. Four of the male detainees are brothers.

Five men were sentenced to death on May 27, including four in absentia, under article 302 (1) (b) of the penal code for the alleged fatal assault of a man living in Shwe Pyi Thar commune. .

In the latest reported convictions, a military court sentenced 15 people – 13 men and 2 women – to death on June 21, indicted under Article 302 (1) (b) of the Criminal Code for allegedly killing an informant and two of his sons on March 15. at Shwe Pauk Kan Myothit, in the township of North Okkalapa. Seven are detained; eight were sentenced in absentia.

Since February, the junta and security forces have responded with increasing violence and repression to the national anti-coup movement. State security forces killed more than 900 people and detained around 5,300 activists, journalists, officials and politicians.

Martial law orders also allow the death penalty for treason and related offenses, several of which have been introduced or extended by the SAC to broadly criminalize protest activity and the civil disobedience movement. Under the expanded treason provisions, it is illegal to “stir up disaffection against” the defense forces, effectively qualifying any criticism of military treason. Military courts have also been tasked with hearing charges used to stifle dissent, including Article 505A of the Penal Code, a new provision put in place by the junta that makes comments that “cause fear” a criminal offense. “, Spread” false news “or” directly or indirectly agitate a criminal offense against a government employee.

Some death row inmates said they were beaten by police in prison. Myanmar security forces have subjected many detainees arrested since the coup to torture and other ill-treatment, including systematic beatings. Detainees are often held incommunicado, unable to contact relatives or a lawyer. The victims, including a 17-year-old boy who spoke to Human Rights Watch, described beatings, burns from lit cigarettes, prolonged stressful positions, and gender-based violence.

Other sources interviewed said security forces often transported detainees to police stations or military interrogation centers, where they were beaten and forced to stand, kneel or lie in stressful positions for periods of time. hours.

Myanmar has not carried out judicial executions of prisoners since 1988, although Myanmar law still maintains the death penalty and courts have continued to sentence people to death. Human Rights Watch opposes the death penalty in all circumstances because of its inherent cruelty and irreversibility, and has long called on Myanmar to ban all capital punishment.

“These bogus military courts hand down unjust and final death sentences under the leadership of a commander sanctioned by the European Union, the United States and others for having committed the worst crimes under international law,” he said. said Bauchner. “The United Nations, the EU, the United States and other governments should demand the release of all those who have been wrongly imprisoned and step up the pressure so that the junta knows that what they are doing – even behind the prison doors – is guarded. “