According to legal experts, the junta's declaration that a group of citizens has been sentenced to death is part of an effort to instill terror in Myanmar's population.
In late March, 19 people from Myanmar's North Okkalapa township, which is under martial law, were sentenced for murdering an army officer's associate, beating the officer, and stealing their weapons, according to military-run television.
Only two of the 19 have been apprehended – Aung Aung Htet and Bo Bo Thu – with the other 17 being convicted in their absence.
“They're announcing death sentences, but they're killing people recklessly on the ground,” said a lawyer who requested anonymity because he has been offering free legal assistance to demonstrators. “They're making fear official.”
According to the state-run newspaper The Mirror, a military tribunal sentenced seven people to death on Tuesday night for killing a woman in Hlaing Tharyar on March 15. According to the newspaper, four people have been arrested and three more are still on the loose. Martial law is also in effect in Hlaing Tharyar.
Myanmar has had the death penalty on the books since 1988, but no executions have been carried out, according to lawyer Kyi Myint.
He claims that, despite the fears of some human rights organizations, the military will continue to refrain from carrying out executions. “All they're doing is scaring people. They have given the death penalty but will not carry it out. During the Than Shwe regime, several people were sentenced to death. “However, no one was put to death,” he said.
“They primarily want people to fear them,” Myo Aung, a lawyer in Myawaddy, Karen State, said. They want people to fear them and submit to their authority. People who show respect to them and listen to what they say will be protected from being murdered right away.”
The death penalty is imposed by a district-level judge in a civilian court and must be appealed within seven days. State and regional courts, the Supreme Court, and the President will all hear appeals. The sentence is only final if the President refuses the appeal.
Appeals to the military council or the head of Yangon Regional Command have been needed since the coup.
He said, "The law is a tool to stabilize the administrative process." “That theory is applied in this case. I'm guessing it's based on the notion that people won't dare to do anything similar after this precedent.”
According to a volunteer organization based in North Okkalapa, the junta's armed forces killed at least ten people and wounded dozens more on March 3.
Protesters claimed that over 20 people died on that day, but Myanmar Now was unable to confirm that figure.
On the morning of March 10, armed forces broke up a demonstration near Kan Thar Yar park in the township, arresting over 100 young protestors.
The military council proclaimed martial law in the townships of Hlaing Tharyar, Shwe Pyi Thar, South Dagon, North Dagon, Dagon Seikkan, and North Okkalapa on March 14 and 15.
It also announced 23 offenses that would be prosecuted by a military tribunal if they occurred in areas where martial law was in effect.
Thant Sin Htwe, who was accompanying Captain Htet Aung Kyaw, was murdered by the 19 people sentenced to death.
According to the junta, the killing occurred at 3:30 p.m. on March 27, but locals believe it occurred in the early hours of the morning on that day when the curfew was in force since the arrests started at 8 a.m.
A witness told Myanmar Now that military vehicles took over the local ward administration office at 6 a.m. and began arresting people on Aya Kyaung street and several other streets two hours later.
The witness said, "They caught anyone they could find."
Aung Aung Htet and Bo Bo Thu were detained and taken from their homes at 11:30 a.m., according to family members.
Aye Aye Thin, Bo Bo Thu's mum, said, "They were beating up boys on Aya Kyaung street and asking who they had seen going out for demonstrations and all that."
“When they arrived in Bo Bo Thu, they had this boy named Aung Htet handcuffed and badly beaten up. "And he said, 'This is it, this is Bo Bo Thu's home,'" she said.
Bo Bo Thu, who was eating at the time, got up to flee, but the soldiers apprehended him and beat him up, according to Aye Aye Thin.
She later saw her 28-year-old son, who was bruised, on television. “I couldn't even remember my own son because he was bleeding... She explained, "I just recognized him because of his shirt."
While recovering from surgery for an injured leg, Aung Aung Htet, 27, was arrested. His mum, Myint Myint Than, said he has other health problems and is unable to function.
“They took him for what happened the night before,” he said, alluding to the murder. “They suggested bringing an older person, so his father went. They took him to the administration office of the Nya ward. There were also others who had been detained.”
She said that a pro bono lawyer would file an appeal in his case with the prison management agency.
According to a source, over 40 people were detained and interviewed at the administration office until 8 p.m. that day, and about twenty of them were then taken somewhere else.
The military council has declared that appeals may be made to the chair of the council and the commander of the Yangon Region Command and that only the two of them have the authority to alter or dismiss cases.