CHIANG MAI, Thailand — Two Burmese migrants currently being detained on Thailand’s Koh Samui were allegedly beaten and threatened by Thai police and an interpreter under interrogation for the murders of two British tourists last month, according to a Burmese lawyer who spoke with the accused.
The two migrants from Burma’s Arakan State, Zaw Lin and Win Zaw Htun, are suspected of murdering Hannah Witheridge, 23, and David Miller, 24, on Koh Tao in Thailand’s Surat Thani province on Sept. 15.
Aung Myo Thant, a Burmese lawyer who is part of a legal team sent by the Burmese Embassy in Bangkok to represent the accused, told The Irrawaddy that Win Zaw Htun was assaulted and threatened after refusing to confess to the murders during a police interrogation.
“He didn’t confess when he was in the investigation center,” Aung Myo Thant said. “A police officer hit the side of his face and the interpreter also hit him four times. Then police threatened to electrocute them [the suspects] and said that no worse thing would happen to them if they confessed. So, they finally confessed as they saw no hope.”
The lawyer said Win Zaw Htun had asked him to “please protect us in accordance with the law.” Aung Myo Thant said the migrants signed a power of attorney document over to the embassy’s legal team, allowing it to represent the accused men in court.
Thai authorities denied a request by the Burmese legal team to meet with another Burmese migrant Maung Maung, who is being held by Thai police as a witness.
“Police told us Maung Maung is not a criminal. They are keeping him to be a witness and provide testimony to the prosecutor. So, they can’t let us meet him. They told us they are keeping him at a hotel,” said Aung Myo Thant. There were unconfirmed reports stating that Maung Maung, who is a friend of the two suspects, was also badly beaten by Thai police.
Several Burmese migrant workers who were among those recently questioned by Thai authorities on Koh Tao in connection with the murders told The Irrawaddy that they were beaten during questioning. Than Hlaing, one of six Burmese migrants who were questioned by Thai police last Thursday, alleged that the group was beaten under interrogation.
The Burmese legal team plans to visit Koh Tao in order to meet with the Burmese community there and collect more information. The team said they are cooperating with the Burmese government and the Burmese Embassy in Bangkok and are acting in accordance with Thai law. Burma’s President Thein Sein will discuss the murder case when he meets Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha in Burma later this week.
When contacted by The Irrawaddy on Tuesday, the mother of three Burmese migrant workers who alleged that Thai police poured hot water over them during questioning said she would not let her children speak to the media out of fear for their safety. She said that after the allegation surfaced in the media, Thai police came to warn her children that they would be in trouble if they spoke to the media again.
“We will try our best to help our Burmese people as they are often abused in Thailand,” Aung Myo Thant said. “We also demanded that Thai police protect our citizens in accordance with the law.”