Koh Tao murders: Burmese pair indicted

Koh Tao murders: Burmese pair indicted

Thai public prosecutors have decided to indict two Burmese workers before Koh Samui Provincial Court Thursday for the murders of two British tourists on Koh Tao in September.

The decision followed the prosecutors’ review of the 900-page police report into the murder of David Miller, 24, and the rape-murder of Hannah Witheridge, 23, on the Surat Thani island on 15 September.

Thawatchai Saengjaew, chief of the Public Prosecution’s Region 8 Office, said that authorities will indict Zaw Lin, 21, on five counts – the murder of Miller, the rape and murder of Witheridge, illegal entry into Thailand and staying in the country without permission.

Win Zaw Htun, 21, faces the same charges and an additional charge of stealing a mobile phone and sunglasses from Miller.

The indictments come after three months of controversy in which domestic and foreign media questioned the police investigation every step of the way, branding it unprofessional and inconclusive.

Human rights and lawyer groups, as well as labour activists, have condemned the arrest of the two Burmese migrant workers, claiming the men are scapegoats.

Pressure from the media, rights groups and the Burmese embassy prompted the regional public prosecutors’ office to order police to look for additional evidence and re-investigate parts of the initial probe.

Win Zaw Htun and Zaw Lin, whom police earlier said had confessed to the murders, later retracted their confessions, saying they had been tortured by police into admitting the crimes.

They retracted their confessions after lawyers from the Lawyers Council of Thailand visited them on 21 October.

The suspects allege that a Burmese translator provided by police had kicked one of them in the chest repeatedly to force the confessions.

However, Mr Thawatchai said the authorities are confident because they have solid evidence including DNA, security camera footage and witness accounts to back the charges against the suspects.

The suspects will be asked in court if they will stand by their initial statements to police in which they confessed to the crimes, Mr Thawatchai said.

Meanwhile, the Metropolitan Police Bureau (MPB) deputy commissioner testified to the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) Wednesday that officers did not abuse or torture the two suspects.

Pol Maj Gen Suwat Jaengyodsuk, the case’s chief investigator, appeared for the first time at a meeting of the NHRC’s subcommittee on civil and political rights to deny the allegations.

The police had failed to show up on the four occasions they were summoned by the NHRC, which launched an investigation in early October.

The Burmese suspects have spent the intervening months in detention on  Koh Samui.

Niran Pitakwatchara, chairman of the NHRC subcommittee, went before the media after the closed-door meeting with police, saying Pol Maj Gen Suwat had insisted that police had conducted the investigation, DNA tests and arrests by the book.

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“Pol Maj Gen Suwat said there had been no torture at any time during the investigation process,” Dr Niran said.

The MPB deputy commissioner had said many agencies were involved in the investigation, including the provincial, regional, tourism and marine police, and all of them had worked according to professional standards, said Dr Niran.

“Pol Maj Gen Suwat also insisted the translator did not assault the suspects,” he said.

The NHRC’s subcommittee would wrap up its investigation soon and forward its findings to the Royal Thai Police, Dr Niran said.

Thai police have faced severe criticism from the first day of the investigation, when they were accused of allowing people to trample on the crime scene.

They were also accused of mishandling the probe by moving quickly from one suspect to another – including friends of the victims and the son of a local bar owner – and then abandoning their lines of inquiry soon after.

This article was originally published in the Bangkok Post on 3 December 2014. 

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