Myanmar migrant workers appeal Thai death sentence

Myanmar migrant workers appeal Thai death sentence

Zaw Lin, Way Pyo sentenced to death Dec. 24 for killing two British tourists after heavily criticized judicial process

By Max Constant

BANGKOK (AA) - Two Myanmar migrant workers who launched an appeal in Thailand Monday against a death sentence for killing two British tourists have said they are confident of having their convictions quashed.

An adviser for a civil society organization set up to protect migrant workers rights who helped the men file their appeal told Anadolu Agency that their spirits were high when he visited them in prison last week, and they maintain their innocence.

“They are very strong, even if the prison conditions are very harsh,” Andy Hall, an adviser to the Migrants Workers Rights Network, said.

“They are very confident that they will be acquitted. They just want to leave Thailand as soon as possible and go back to Myanmar,”

Zaw Lin and Way Pyo (also known as Win Zaw Htun) both 22 years old, were sentenced to death Dec. 24, last year by the Surat Thani criminal court, after a year-long judicial process that was heavily criticized by human rights and migrant rights organizations for its flaws.

“The trial itself was fair, in the sense that both accused could present their case to the court,” said Hall.

“But the forensic work done by the police was flawed. The judge himself admitted that the DNA evidence used for the sentencing was tainted. There were so many strange things in the process. And we cannot not understand the court verdict.”

British tourists David Miller, 24, and Hannah Witheridge, 23, were found bludgeoned to death on a southern Thai island beach on Sept. 15, 2014.

Witheridge had been raped before the murder. A hoe with blood stains on it was found nearby.

Under pressure due to a subsequent lack off arrest, Thai police undertook blanket DNA testing across the island with a particular focus on migrant workers.

In October 2014, they arrested Zaw Lin and Way Pyo and said they had confessed to the crime.

But when met by human rights workers a few days later, the two young men affirmed they had been tortured and forced to confess and retracted their confessions.

The Myanmar and British governments both asked that the investigation be conducted in a “fair manner”.

At the time, a British police team was sent to Thailand to observe the Thai police investigation.

During the trial Thai forensic expert Pornthip Rojanasunan told the court that the DNA found on the hoe belonged to two other people, not Zaw Lin, or Way Pyo.

Possible manipulation of DNA samples by Thai police became a key point in the murder investigation, which was heavily criticized by migrant workers associations and human rights groups.

“There were other controversial points. For instance, a lot of admissible evidence could not be presented to the court. And there was no clear information on where some evidence used by the accusation came from,” said Hall.

The appeal was filed Monday by a team of lawyers, accompanied by the mothers of the two men, who are being held in a maximum security prison in a Bangkok northwestern suburb.

The two mothers traveled all the way from Rakhine State in western Myanmar.

A statement accompanying the appeal said it "was finalized over five months as part of ongoing effort by a team of lawyers from the Lawyers Council of Thailand supported by Burmese [Myanmar], Australian and British translators, assistant and advisors to ensure a fair trial and adequate defense for the two accused”.

The appeal court will likely consider and decide on the case in 2017.

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