Burmese Investigators Urge Public to Monitor Koh Tao Trial

By Moe Myint 1 October 2015

RANGOON — Two migrant workers accused of a grisly dual murder on a Thai island are innocent and should be cleared of all charges, a team of investigators representing the Burmese government told reporters in Rangoon on Thursday, urging the public to monitor the case as it continues later this month.

Zaw Lin and Win Zaw Htun were arrested in late 2014 after the mutilated bodies of two British tourists—Hannah Witheridge and David Miller—were discovered on a beach in Koh Tao, southern Thailand. A postmortem examination revealed that Witheridge had been raped.

The gruesome murder and subsequent trial has raised questions about Thailand’s safety as a tourist destination, the competence of its police force and its treatment of migrant workers.

Observers close to the case claim the suspects—both migrant workers from western Burma’s Arakan State—were convenient scapegoats.

The trial has also been riddled with ambiguity and accusations of foul play; the suspects initially confessed to Thai police officers but later said they had been tortured in detention.

A translator hired to assist with the investigation was later revealed to be a Rohingya Muslim who was fluent in neither Thai nor the suspects’ native Arakanese.

Htoo Chit, a migrant rights advocate who leads the investigation team formed by the Burmese Embassy in Thailand, said evidence was overwhelmingly in favor of the defendants and that the Thai justice system should declare them innocent.

“At first, they confessed because they were tortured and threatened in police custody, but they told us everything because they trust us,” Htoo Chit said. “I believe they are innocent and will be free soon, but we must monitor [the decision of the court] and whether they are acquitted.”

The most crucial piece of evidence in the trial, Htoo Chit said, was a DNA test administered by Thai investigators that has come under increasing scrutiny. A typical DNA identification can take about 20 days, he said, though the Thai investigators had completed the match in only three.

Esteemed Thai forensic pathologist Dr. Pornthip Rojanasunan, who was called in by the defense team to carry out an independent inquiry, recently told the court that the assumed murder weapon showed no trace of DNA belonging to either of the suspects.

The trial, which has garnered international attention over the past year since the suspects’ detention, will continue on Oct. 10 and 11, and is expected to reach a verdict by the end of this year.