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Thailand Officials Defend Verdict for Myanmar Men in Backpacker Murders

BenarNews Staff
2015-12-28
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Myanmar nationals Zaw Lin (left) and Win Zaw Htun are escorted from the Koh Samui provincial court after they were sentenced to death for the September 2014 murders of two British backpackers, Dec. 24, 2015.
Myanmar nationals Zaw Lin (left) and Win Zaw Htun are escorted from the Koh Samui provincial court after they were sentenced to death for the September 2014 murders of two British backpackers, Dec. 24, 2015.
AFP

Thailand’s top two leaders said Monday they lacked the authority to sway a Thai court’s ruling that sentenced two migrant workers from Myanmar to death for murdering a pair of British backpackers on a southern island in September 2014.

Responding to demands from Myanmar officials that the case be reviewed, Thailand’s prime minister and deputy prime minister both defended the court’s decision, saying the government would respect the Thai judiciary and the ruling.

The Dec. 24 sentencing by the Koh Samui provincial court in the highly charged case has sparked demonstrations in neighboring Myanmar. Protestors say the investigation against defendants Zaw Lin and Win Zaw Htun (also known as Wai Phyo) was flawed and they did not receive a fair trial.

Both men were convicted of killing Briton David Miller, 24, as well as raping and killing compatriot Hannah Witheridge, 23, last year on Koh Tao island, a popular Thai tourist destination. The victims’ bludgeoned bodies were found on a local beach, reports said.

“Myanmar requested a fair trial in line with the judicial system. But to answer whether we can cancel the trial, why don’t you media just tell them [it is impossible?],” Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-o-cha told reporters.

“They have the right to appeal, right? Laws all over the world have this. Or should Thai law not have this? Is it the case that we should release all people when pressured?” Agence France-Presse quoted Prayuth as saying.

Separately, Deputy Prime Minister Prawit Wongsuwan, told reporters that the two defendants had the right to appeal their sentences.

“The verdict was read and I wonder how we can review the case. There will be an appeal process and fresh evidence can be submitted for consideration,” Prawit said.

“Why do they need a review [of the] case? Doing so just means that our judicial system is incompetent,” he added.

The prime minister and deputy PM came out with their comments a day after Min Aung Hliang, supreme commander of Myanmar’s military, called on Thailand to review the double-murder case.

“The commander expressed his respect for Thailand’s judicial process while stressing the need to avoid a situation in which the innocent … were wrongly punished,” the state-run Global New Light of Myanmar reported on Sunday.

Evidence questioned

Meanwhile, lawyer Nakhon Chomphuchat, who led a seven-member defense team, said they planned to appeal the verdict and sentence for both Zaw Lin and Wai Phyo within 30 days.

“We are preparing an appeal and will file it as soon as we are ready,” he told BenarNews in a phone interview.

There were flaws in the process that led to his clients’ trial and conviction, Nakhon said.

He cited as examples alleged confessions made by the suspects without any of their lawyers being present and problems with how police collected DNA from Witheridge’s body.

The DNA from the slain woman did not match the suspects’ DNA, Nakhon said.

“The court overruled the defendants’ torture claim,” he said, adding, “The collection of DNA was not in line with international standards either.”

Young backpackers assailed

According to police, the two migrants from Myanmar who worked on Koh Tao, used a garden hoe to attack Miller. They drowned him before raping and killing Witheridge, former National Police Chief Gen. Somyos Poompanmuang said in October 2014.

Police identified Zaw Lin and Wai Phyo from images captured on a closed-circuit camera at a bar nearby the murder scene.

According to reports, Wai Phyo confessed to his alleged part in killing the Britons, but later recanted his statement saying that police extracted a confession from him through torture.

David Miller’s family members say they are convinced that the Koh Samui Provincial Court convicted the right men.

“I’ve listened carefully to all the evidence, and despite what their lawyer says, this is our opinion that the evidence against Wai Phyo and Zaw Lin is absolutely overwhelming,” Miller’s brother, Michael, said on Thursday, after the court delivered the verdict and sentence.

“They raped to satisfy their selfish desire and murdered to cover up that fact, they showed no remorse during the trial,” he added. “We believed the correct verdict has been reached.”

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