By executing four political prisoners, defying all international appeals, Myanmar’s junta has sent out a clear message to both its critics abroad and the resistance at home that it has no plans for any political settlement. The military (Tatmadaw), which seized power in February 2021 through a coup, unseating the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi, has unleashed repressive measures ever since. It arrested some 14,000 political prisoners, of which over 11,000 are still in prison. More than 2,000 civilians have been killed and thousands of houses have been burnt, rendering millions homeless. Ms. Suu Kyi has been convicted on half a dozen phoney charges in secret trials and sentenced to 11 years in prison. The military has slapped her with many other charges that, with convictions from the Generals’ kangaroo courts, could effectively keep her in prison for the rest of her life. But despite these repressive measures, the junta has not managed to establish even a semblance of order. While in the past, pro-democracy activists followed non-violent means of protesting against military rulers, now they have built a violent underground movement and joined hands with the country’s ethnic rebels, who have been fighting the junta for decades. This has caused significant losses for the military, which is seeing more ambushes and sniper attacks. The execution of the political prisoners, one of them a former lawmaker, is an act of desperation by a dispensation that is being increasingly cornered.
Myanmar had seen a rare period of stability and economic growth when Ms. Suu Kyi was running the government. The military had agreed to an experiment of quasi-democracy when it found the status quo unsustainable. But that experiment lasted only 10 years as the military became increasingly threatened by Ms. Suu Kyi’s growing popularity. By staging the coup, it did not just end the democratic experiment, but also sought to remove the potential threats to the military’s grip on power. But not everything moved as per plan. The Generals may have captured power, but they now preside over a different Myanmar. The country’s economy is in a free fall — it contracted 18% last year and GDP this year is expected to be 13% lower than in 2019, according to the World Bank. The regime is facing armed resistance in the countryside and civil resistance in the cities. The National Unity Government, the alternative administration formed by the resistance, says the junta, which lacks international recognition, has lost half the country to the rebels. With the executions of political prisoners, the Tatmadaw, one of the most consistent enemies of human freedoms and dignity, has sought to instil fear among the public and crush their spirit. But in trying to do so, it has created four martyrs for the resistance. Its tactics are helping neither the power-hungry Generals nor the people of Myanmar.