Myanmar Legal Team to Appeal Verdict Against Migrant Workers in Thailand’s Highest Court

Special to BenarNews

2017-03-15
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170315-TH-BU-convicts-620 Zaw Lin (left) and Win Zaw Htun are taken from court after hearing their sentences, in Koh Samui, Thailand, Dec. 24, 2015.
AFP

The Myanmar government is sending a special legal team to file a second appeal of the verdict against two migrant workers from the country who were sentenced to death in Thailand for the 2014 murder of a British couple at a Thai resort, their lawyer said Wednesday.

Zaw Lin and Win Zaw Tun, both in their early 20s, were sentenced to death by a Thai court on Dec. 24, 2015, after being convicted of the murder of British backpacker David Miller, 24, and the rape and murder of his companion Hannah Witheridge, 23, on the island of Koh Tao in September 2014.

A government legal team had filed an appeal with a lower court but it was rejected on Feb. 23 of this year, though the news was not made public. The men’s lawyers and activists found out about it a week later.

The death sentences can be revoked under an amnesty or be changed into a minimum punishment because the highest court in Thailand cannot impose capital punishment without solid evidence, their lawyer Aung Myo Thant told the Myanmar Service of Radio Free Asia (RFA), a sister entity of BenarNews.

“The state is giving us full support,” he said. “It is sending a legal advisory team to provide assistance for when the new appeal is submitted to Thailand’s highest court. Right now, we are translating the documents from the First Appeals Court from Thai into the Burmese language.”

A Thai Foreign Office official said the Myanmar legal team must submit new facts in its appeal, Aung Myo said, adding that those working on the case are studying a 4,000-page report about the crime.

“We need to request that the deadline for the new appeal be postponed because the 30-day deadline for filing it after the sentencing is not enough time,” he said.

“We are working with the Myanmar Lawyers Network to extend the deadline,” Aung Myo said. “Under Thai law, the appeal deadline can be extended a month at a time based on reasonable facts.”

One of the questionable facts in the case is the principal murder weapon, which court documents list as a hoe, he said.

“But the DNA of the two suspects was not found on that hoe,” he said, adding that a Thai doctor told the court that DNA could be found if a person holds something for just five seconds.

“We can take up this issue in our new appeal,” Aung Myo said. “We know this highest court where we are submitting our appeal is a very free and impartial court, and we expect to get the truth and a fair result.”

Though Zaw Lin and Win Zaw Tun at first admitted to the crime, they later recanted, saying they had made their confession under duress.

Hundreds in Myanmar staged protests in late December 2015 calling for the pair to be freed, saying the men were scapegoats in a botched Thai police investigation of the crime.

At the same time, Myanmar human rights officials appealed to their counterparts in Thailand to ensure that two remained protected by the law while they appealed their verdict.

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