PEN International is gravely concerned by reports that writer and pro-democracy activist, Kyaw Min Yu (also known as Ko Jimmy) is among several individuals who Myanmar’s military junta has publicly confirmed would be executed by hanging following a closed-door military tribunal. We call on the military junta to immediately quash Kyaw Min Yu’s death sentence and to ensure his right to defend himself in accordance with international fair trial standards. We urge the release of all those unjustly detained.
On 24 October 2021, Kyaw Min Yu was arrested by the military junta following a raid on a housing complex in Yangon. The military junta had previously issued a warrant for his arrest on 13 February 2021 over his posts on social media, which were critical of the junta’s military coup that took place just days prior. Since February, Kyaw Min Yu has been living in hiding.
‘The military has terrorized the country of Myanmar and its citizens through its coup d'état against Myanmar’s democratically elected government. The sheer brutality and inhumane cruelty that has come to define the military junta’s rule has resulted in the deaths of hundreds of anti-coup activists and their families. Their decision to execute a writer and leading pro-democracy activist who has committed his life for the welfare of others is just the latest example of the military junta’s intent to rule by terror. We condemn this decision, which will only serve to push Myanmar further down the path of conflict and suffering’, said Ma Thida, Chair of PEN International’s Writers in Prison Committee.
Reports have since emerged that Kyaw Min Yu was severely injured at the time of his arrest, requiring him to be placed in an intensive care ward at a military hospital in northern Yangon. Given the military junta’s systematic torture of detainees, the severity of Kyaw Min Yu’s injuries are a cause of grave concern for his wife and fellow pro-democracy activist, Nilar Thein, who places full responsibility on the military junta for his treatment following his arrest.
Just two weeks after his arrest, in November 2020 Kyaw Min Yu was charged with several additional offences, including high treason.
On 21 January 2021, Kyaw Min Yu was sentenced to death under the country’s 2014 Counter-Terrorism law, which was amended by the military junta in August 2021 to impose longer prison sentences for a range of anti-coup activities. The amendments have also had a considerable chilling effect on freedom of expression in Myanmar, with individuals who publicly criticise the coup liable to being prosecuted under the amended legislation on propaganda charges.
The nature of the counter-terrorism charges against Kyaw Min Yu infringe on his ability to defend himself in accordance with fair trial standards. Military courts have also been frequently used since the coup to target civilian dissidents through closed legal proceedings that severely limit outside scrutiny and place the burden of proof on the accused.
Since the coup began, over 14,000 people have been arrested, with over 1,100 sentenced. 73 of those sentenced face capital punishment, including PEN Myanmar member Wai Moe Naing. If the military junta proceeds with the executions of Kyaw Min Yu and his co-accused, it will be the first judicial execution to take place since 1988, signalling a shocking escalation in the military junta’s use of state violence to target dissidents of the regime. The death penalty charges have drawn international condemnation, including the United Nations, and the governments of the United States, France, Canada, and the United Kingdom.
PEN International condemns the military junta’s brutal repression of the people of Myanmar and continues its calls for the immediate and unconditional release of all those wrongfully detained for their peaceful expression.
About Kyaw Min Yu:
Kyaw Min Yu is a writer and veteran member of the 88 Generation Students Group, a pro-democracy movement that organised some of the first protests that ultimately culminated in the 1988 Uprising, a series of mass pro-democracy protests that were crushed following a military coup, resulting in thousands of deaths. For his role in the 1988 Uprising, Kyaw Min Yu was sentenced to fifteen years’ imprisonment.
While in prison, Kyaw Min Yu worked on Burmese translations of Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code and Angels and Demons, which were reportedly left unpublished due to censors’ concerns over the controversial nature of the books. Following his release in July 2005, Kyaw Min Yu published his first literary work, Making Friends (မိတ်ဖြစ်ဆွေဖြစ်), a self-help book that quickly became best-seller.
Just two years after his release, Kyaw Min Yu was arrested on 12 August 2007 and imprisoned for five years for his role in leading peaceful protests against fuel price increases. While imprisoned for the second time, Kyaw Min Yu wrote a fiction novel titled The Moon in Inle Lake (လမင်းစန္ဒာအင်းလေးကန်), which was published following his release in 2012.
For further information please contact Ross Holder, Asia Programme Coordinator at PEN International, Unit A, Koops Mill, 162-164 Abbey Street, London, SE1 2AN, Tel.+ 44 (0) 20 7405 0338, email: firstname.lastname@example.org