Category Archives: Other Migration Issues in Mekong
The trial of two 22-year-old Burmese migrants, Zaw Lin and Wai Phyo, accused of the murder of two British tourists on a Thai resort island last year, opens Wednesday in Koh Samui amid accusations of evidence mishandling, witness intimidation and possible coerced confessions.
The bodies of two young Britons, Hannah Witheridge — who was also raped, according to police reports — and David Miller, were discovered early on September 15 on a beach on Koh Tao, a small island in the Gulf of Thailand. They were partially undressed and had sustained severe injuries to their heads.
The Burmese pair, who were working in the hospitality industry on the island, were arrested around two weeks after the crimes committed and originally confessed, only to later recant, saying that their admissions of guilt were made under duress.
Thai police say that forensic evidence, including DNA samples from cigarette butts found near the bodies, tie the men to the scene.
Police Commissioner Gen. Somyot Poompanmuang previously told CNN that DNA in semen taken from Witheridge matched samples taken from the two men.
“The DNA matching result is out already and they matched with DNA found on the female victim,” he said, adding that the men admitted to raping Witheridge.
The two suspects’ defense team says that the investigation has been flawed due to “alleged mishandling of forensic evidence, abuse of suspects and intimidation of witnesses, particularly migrant workers living on Koh Tao,” according to a statement released by the Migrant Workers Rights Network (MWRN), a rights group assisting the defense team.
The trial, which is due to take place over 18 days between July and September, will open with the judge’s decision to allow the defense to reexamine the evidence.
The defense alleges that forensic crime scene evidence — including DNA samples from semen found on the body of Witheridge — was mishandled by the Thai Royal Police investigators.
“We’re confident that the request will be allowed as it is key to a fair trial,” Andy Hall, International Affairs Adviser for MWRN.
“(The forensic evidence) is the main evidence for the trial. We haven’t seen any evidence (besides the disputed DNA samples) to link them to any of the crimes.”
Nakhon Chompuchat, the lead lawyer for the two suspects told CNN the defense would not ask for a postponement in the event that the court granted a re-examination of the evidence. He also said that if the request was not granted he would resubmit it.
Accusations of coercion
In October, the defendants told Aung Myo Thant, a lawyer attached to the Myanmar embassy, that they only admitted the crime after being beaten by the police and threatened with electrocution.
“They said they didn’t do it, that the Thai police (along with their Myanmar-Thai translator) beat them until they confessed to something they didn’t do,” Aung told the Bangkok Post at the time.
“They’re pleading with the Myanmar government to look into the case and find out the truth. They were a really pitiful sight. Their bodies had all sorts of bruises. I have already reported all that I have seen… to my government.”
At the time, the national police chief denied the police had extracted the confessions through the use of torture.
Thai Department of Special Investigation Deputy Director General Wannapong Kotcharat declined to speak to CNN about the case.
Kosolwat Intuchanyong, Deputy Spokesman to the Office of the Attorney General, said his office had received complaints from the victims’ families and defense team and had instructed the regional office of the Attorney General to conduct further interviews that were incorporated into the case, but had ultimately decided that the Attorney General had enough evidence to proceed with the trial.
Alleged bias against migrants
A perceived judicial bias against migrant workers in Thailand has long been noted by rights agencies.
“It’s critical that the two accused migrant workers get a free and fair trial that fully accords with international fair trial standards,” Phil Robertson, the Deputy Director of the Asia Division of Human Rights Watch told CNN.
“Migrant workers have hardly ever been treated well by the Thai police, and not always been dealt with fairly by the Thai criminal justice system, so in migrant communities in Thailand there are ample suspicions about this case.”
Hall agrees that migrants in Thailand “face severe challenges in the criminal justice system,” and that this case provides “clear evidence of that.”
However, despite this historical disadvantage, the defense team hopes the international attention the case has received will ensure the trial will be fair and transparent.
“We’re confident that the trial will be fair because of the international focus. (The Thai legal system) is challenged on many fronts but this can be a showcase for Thai justice,” Hall said.
“Our task is to ensure that there is a fair trial where both sides have access to all the evidence.”
CNN’s Kocha Olarn in Bangkok contributed to this report.
By Euan McKirdy
Published on 7 July 2015
A Thailand-based migrants’ rights NGO has urged the Burmese government to do more to intervene in a recent murder case in which a trio of Burmese laborers in Thailand were found shot to death by an unknown assailant.
The three migrant workers at a rubber plantation in southern Thailand’s Surat Thani province were shot dead on Friday. The victims, from Mon State in Burma, included a 14-year-old boy, Chit Phu, who was killed along with his brother Kyaw Htoo, 29. The third victim, San Min, was 22 years old.
“The victims were murdered at around 9 pm on Friday night in the field of their rubber plantation,” said Htoo Chit, director of the Foundation for Education Development, an NGO assisting migrant workers in Thailand.
“We were told by neighbors that they heard about 14-15 gunshots at that time, and when they went to check, they found their bodies, shot from close range in their heads and necks,” said Htoo Chit, citing information received from local rubber plantation workers.
“Such murder cases are not uncommon,” Htoo Chit said, adding that in similar cases of migrant workers’ victimization, “no justice was brought.”
In this case, he said, the Burmese Embassy had helped to secure the release of the victims’ bodies from the morgue, with his foundation arranging a proper funeral for the deceased at a monastery in Surat Thani. The bodies are due to be buried on Wednesday, pending the arrival of the victims’ family members to Thailand.
Htoo Chit added that letters had been sent to the embassy, the Burmese Ministry of Labor and Parliament, seeking their intervention in the case.
“It should be a government to government intervention,” he said.
“If the government collaborates more with the local NGOs and with Thai authorities, we could see fewer cases in the future.”
The murder of the three migrant workers comes four months after the high-profile killing of two British tourists on the Thai resort island of Koh Tao. Thai authorities have pinned the murders on two Burmese migrant workers, though human rights groups including Htoo Chit’s foundation have claimed the legal case against the men is deeply flawed.
Aung Myo Thant, a Burmese lawyer working on the Surat Thani migrant workers’ case, said they had not yet made official contact with the relevant Thai law enforcement personnel.
“We heard some people have been detained, but it could not be confirmed yet that they are the perpetrators. We are trying to get as much information as we can, then we will share it with the ambassador and will follow his lead.”
By NYEIN NYEIN & KHIN OO THA
Nine Vietnamese nationals found to be living in Cambodia illegally were arrested at furniture-making workshops in Battambang City on Tuesday as the national immigration census nears its end, a police official said Wednesday.
Oeun Sarun, deputy provincial police chief, said the raids at the two businesses in Svay Por and Chamkar Samraong communes came after several months of investigations.
“Police have worked in the communes for a few months and after checking records they arrested nine people who were found without passports or immigration documents,” said Mr. Sarun, adding that the seven men and two women were believed to have crossed into Cambodia through illegal checkpoints in Svay Rieng and Kandal provinces within the past month.
Uk Heisela, chief of investigations at the Interior Ministry’s immigration department, said that a total of 1,280 people had been deported since the census began in August, including 1,100 Vietnamese nationals.
Mr. Heisela said the latest group arrested in Battambang would be deported once he had received a letter of confirmation from Interior Minister Sar Kheng.
By Sek Odom