Burmese Migrants Report Police Beatings During Murder Investigation on Koh Tao

By Kyaw Kha 25 September 2014

CHIANG MAI, Thailand — At least two Burmese migrant workers were beaten by Thai police during their investigation into the murder of two British tourists on the southern Thai island of Koh Tao, one of the alleged victims has claimed.

Si Thu, a Burmese migrant who was interrogated by police on Sept. 19, told The Irrawaddy, “While I was answering [the questions of police], a Thai policeman showed a photo to another detainee called Lin Lin and asked if it was his photo. He answered no and the policeman kneed him in the back, saying he was lying.

“Then, the police asked him if he killed those tourists. When Lin Lin answered that he didn’t, the same policeman hit him again,” said Si Thu, who added that he himself was hit over the head when the police took him from his home on Sept. 19, but was not beaten while under interrogation at the police station.

Two British tourists, Hannah Witheridge, 23, and David Miller, 24, were murdered in the early hours of Sept. 15. Despite several leads and potential suspects, mystery remains over the identity of their killer or killers.

According to Thai news agencies, scores of Burmese migrants working on the island were interrogated and had their photos taken along with DNA samples. On Monday, Thailand’s Deputy Police Chief Pol-Gen Somyot Pumpanmuang said that the DNA test results of 30 Burmese migrant workers did not match DNA connected to the murders.

Up to 1,000 Burmese migrants work at restaurants, hotels and construction sites on the island and most of them do not have visas or work permits, Soe Min Htet, who has been working on the island for more than four years, told The Irrawaddy. Burmese migrants are so concerned that they are even scared of going to work following the police interrogations, he said.

“We feel like we are not safe as there are no people to help us. Here, our citizens are vulnerable to unfair treatment and are always looked down upon,” he said. “Because the victims are British, the police are taking it seriously. If our citizens die, no one cares.”

Burma’s Ambassador to Thailand Win Maung said the embassy was keeping a close eye on the treatment of Burmese migrant workers by Thai police on Koh Tao. He said that the Burmese Embassy had contacted the Surat Thani Province police force chief and was continuously reporting developments in the murder investigation to Naypyidaw. “We can’t intervene in their legal interrogation. But if there was any overstepping of boundaries, we would raise an objection with the Thai authorities,” said Win Maung.

Htoo Chit, executive director of the Thailand-based migrant rights group Foundation for Education and Development, said the Burmese government should work together with their Thai counterparts to legally protect Burmese migrant workers. He said Burmese migrants were bullied in Thailand because the Burmese government did not pay enough attention to its citizens. “It has become a custom that Burmese citizens are unfairly detained and beaten if something bad happens in Thailand,” Htoo Chit said.