Thai Supreme Court Upholds Death Sentence for Two Myanmar Migrants

Nontarat Phaicharoen
198029-TH-Myanmar-1000.jpeg Myanmar nationals Wai Phyo (right) and Zaw Lin are escorted by police officers at the Supreme Court in Bangkok, Aug. 29, 2019.

Updated at 5:46 p.m. ET on 2019-08-29

The Thai Supreme Court on Thursday upheld the death sentence of two Myanmar migrant workers who were convicted of killing two British backpackers five years ago on Koh Tao island, a popular tourist destination in southern Thailand.

Zaw Lin and Win Zaw Tun (also known as Wai Phyo), were escorted from the Bang Kwang maximum security prison to a court in the province of Nonthaburi, north of Bangkok, where the defendants, lawyers and reporters listened to the verdict via teleconference from the Supreme Court.

The duo were arrested on Koh Tao on suspicion that they murdered David Miller, 24, and raped and murdered his companion Hannah Witheridge, 23. The suspects were seen on surveillance cameras at the time the crimes were committed on Sept. 15, 2014, and arrested about two weeks later.

“In this case, there are witnesses, evidence and scientific proof – the DNA tests that match the defendants [to the crime],” a judge said, adding that similar tests had also been done on various suspects to eliminate those who were not involved in the murders.

“The DNA samples were swabbed from the cheeks of the duo, matching the compiled scientific evidence. It is hard to believe that police fabricated evidence to frame the defendants,” the judge said. “Upholding the lower court and the Appeal Court Region 8, it is final that the defendants are to be executed.”

After the verdict, the duo was allowed to speak to the court, reiterating their innocence.

“Both affirmed that they did not do the crime. They regretted being punished,” Aye Mar Cho, the defendants’ translator, told BenarNews. “They asked me when they will be executed. That worried them.”

After the final verdict, Zaw Lin and Win Zaw Tun were escorted back to prison.



Seeking king’s mercy

The case has drawn attention from the public because there was suspicion that the murderers could have been local Thais.

The defense claimed that the way the police compiled evidence was dubious, and that their clients’ confessions had been made under duress.

The lawyers said they planned to seek mercy from the Thai king to reduce the sentence to life imprisonment.

“The defendants said they did not commit the crime but fell victim, it is something they have to bear. ... We will seek mercy from the king, with the hope that they will be spared execution,” Nakhon Chomphuchat, the defendants’ chief lawyer, told reporters after the verdict.

The defense team had earlier challenged the transparency of the proceedings.

Nakhon 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 collection of DNA was not in line with international standards either,” he said after the trial court sentenced the two Myanmar suspects to death in December 2015. A court of appeal upheld the sentence in March 2017.

Another lawyer said the courts did not believe the duo was tortured to confess crimes.

“There are times that torture happens without a trace, such as being kept under freezing temperatures,” Natthasiri Bergman, another lawyer, told BenarNews on Thursday.

Meanwhile, Andy Hall, an international adviser for the defense team, released a personal statement following the verdict, saying he believed the death penalty was not the correct sentence.

“I consider that the death penalty sentence and conviction of the two accused Myanmar nationals, Zaw Lin and Wai Phyo, should instead have been reversed and quashed by the Supreme Court,” Hall said.

Hall also questioned how authorities handled forensic evidence related to the case.

“For this reason alone, the evidence relied upon to convict the accused was unreliable and the case against them … could not be proven by the prosecution beyond reasonable doubt and should not have been upheld,” he said.

Wilawan Watcharasakwet in Bangkok and Radio Free Asia, a BenarNews-affiliated online news service, contributed to this report.


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