The Irrawaddy

Burmese Migrants Plead Innocence as Koh Tao Murder Trial Begins

Chief of Royal Thai Police Gen. Somyot Poompanmuang, center, and his team address reporters in Bangkok on Oct. 7, 2014. (Photo: Reuters)

CHIANG MAI, Thailand — The trial of two Burmese migrant workers accused of killing a pair of British travelers on Thailand’s Koh Tao island began on Monday in Koh Samui, where the suspects were officially informed of the charges brought against them.

“It is seven charges against each of the accused,” said Aung Myo Thant, a Burmese lawyer who is part of the Burmese Embassy’s special support team for the defendants, Zaw Lin and Wai Phyo, also known as Win Zaw Lin. The charges include murder, rape, illegally entering Thailand and theft.

According to court attendees, the judge read the charges against the suspects on Monday morning and asked whether they had committed the crimes alleged. The judge told the defendants that an admission of guilt could result in less harsh sentencing if they are ultimately found guilty.

The embassy team members said Zaw Lin and Wai Phyo pled not guilty to all of the charges.

A second hearing is scheduled for Dec. 26, in a case in which the defense says it is having trouble enlisting witnesses.

“They are afraid that if they help on the case, they might be denied entry to the country [Thailand], where they are currently working to support their families,” Aung Myo Thant said.

The families of the victims, David Miller, 24, and Hannah Witheridge, 23, on Friday threw their support behind a much-maligned investigation by the Thai Royal Police, according to AFP, which reported that the families were “confident” of the case built against the defendants after evidence was shared with them.

The bodies of Miller and Witheridge were found on a Koh Tao beach in the early hours of Sept. 15. Thai authorities have faced criticism over their handling of the case, and a supposed confession by the two migrants was later recanted. The defendants have claimed that they were tortured in police custody.