A third Burmese man, Maung Maung, who is being held in custody as a witness to a case involving the murder of two British tourists on the Thai island of Koh Tao, said he did not witness the killing.
His two friends, Zaw Lin and Win Zaw Htun, are currently being held on the neighbouring island of Koh Samui, pending charges of murder and rape.
Lawyer Aung Myo Thant said he and a Burmese embassy team, which included Kyaw Thaung, a representative of the Myanmar Association in Thailand (MAT), was given permission by the Thai police on Koh Samui to question Maung Maung on Wednesday, although he noted that the interview was given in the presence of police officers.
“According to the testimony of Maung Maung, who shared accommodation with the two suspects [Zaw Lin and Win Zaw Htun], they were all three drinking and playing guitar on the night of the incident,” the Burmese lawyer told DVB. “Maung Maung said he left the scene at around 1am after they finished one bottle of beer each, but the two stayed – apparently they wanted to continue drinking and playing guitar. He did mention that there was an ‘English’ or ‘Western’ couple at some point.”
MAT representative Kyaw Thaung reconfirmed the testimony the legal team had been told. “After finishing the beer and cigarettes, Maung Maung said he told his two friends he was leaving, but they insisted on having more to drink, so he went back to the room and got an extra bottle of alcohol and took it to them. That was all around 1am,” he said.
“Maung Maung said he then went to see his girlfriend and did not return until 5am.”
Lawyer Aung Myo Thant and MAT representative Kyaw Thaung both confirmed to DVB that Maung Maung had told the embassy team that he had witnessed Zaw Lin and Win Zaw Htun in bed sleeping when he returned to the room at 5am and that nothing seemed suspicious.
According to Kyaw Thaung: “Maung Maung said he woke them up and asked them, ‘Where is the guitar?’ at which point one of the pair indicated it was in AC Bar [where the British couple, Hannah Witheridge and David Miller, had been drinking with friends the night before]. Maung Maung said he then went to AC Bar to look for the guitar and his sandals, ‘because they were expensive – 350 baht’, he said.
“Maung Maung confirmed that it was the three of them who appeared riding a motorbike in the CCTV camera footage – Zaw Lin, the bike’s owner, in front; himself in the middle; and Win Zaw Htun on the back,” said Kyaw Thaung. “He also confirmed they had bought cigarettes and three bottles of beer at a convenience store.
“He [Muang Maung] said he did not know what happened afterwards, and that when he returned to the room there was nothing to suggest that Zaw Lin and Win Zaw Htun had committed murder.”
Aung Myo Thant also told DVB that an interpreter who took part in the interrogation may have been involved in torturing or beating the two suspects.
In Burma’s state-run media on Wednesday, the Burmese embassy demanded an impartial investigation into the case. “The Myanmar Embassy is making all-out efforts with Thai authorities to ensure an impartial investigation into the murder and legal rights to two Myanmar suspects,” read the Global New Light of Myanmar.
According to the National Human Rights Commission of Thailand, Pol Col Prachum Ruangthong, superintendent of Koh Phangan police station and chief investigator in the case, confirmed that he had met with Burma’s labour attaché Thein Naing and four human rights representatives at Koh Samui’s Bo Put police station.
“We answered all their questions and clarified all points raised in social media. They were satisfied with our explanations,” Pol Col Prachum is reported saying by the Bangkok Post.
“The Myanmar officials were told the investigation was above board; it was carried out in transparent manner, and no false evidence was presented,” the police chief is reported saying, adding that, “The accused were never tortured into confessing.”
Amnesty International released a statement on Tuesday. It read: “Thailand must ensure an independent and thorough investigation into mounting allegations of torture and other ill-treatment by police and respect fair trial rights during their probe into the murder of two British tourists on the island of Koh Tao.”
According to Phil Robertson, the deputy director of Human Rights Watch’s Asia division: “These allegations by the two Burmese suspects to their lawyers that they were tortured in police custody must be fully and impartially investigated, and if that investigation finds there is substance to the allegations then all persons responsible for such abuses should be held criminally responsible regardless of position or rank.”
The British embassy in Bangkok has been unavailable for comment.
Meanwhile, in an interview with Burmese newspaper Mizzima, Htun Htun Htike, the father of suspect Win Zaw Htun, said, “I know for a fact it would be absolutely impossible for my son to kill a person.
“At first, his mother thought it was just a different person with the same name – she couldn’t see how it would be possible for our son to be a killer. But then she saw him on the TV news. Now she’s refusing to eat or shower – if this goes on like this, she may die or lose her mind,” he is reported saying.
Meanwhile, in the UK, a petition on change.org for an independent evaluation of the evidence had attracted more than45,000 signatures by Wednesday afternoon.