Defense To Present Witnesses in Ranong Murder Case

By Lawi Weng 30 September 2016

Wednesday, Sept. 28, marked the sixth Thai court hearing in the case of four Burmese migrant workers accused of murdering a Thai female high school student in Ranong Province on the same day in 2015.

According to a report by a foundation supporting migrant worker rights in southern Thailand, it was also the final hearing for the prosecution in the case of the brutal stabbing of Orawee Sampaotong, 17. The next hearing is scheduled for Oct. 5, in which the defense will begin presenting its own witnesses.

After police allegedly found no viable leads in the case, Moe Zin Aung, Zaw Lay, Mang Sane, and Kyaw Soe Win—working nearly 60 miles away in the Kuraburi seaport at the time of the murder—were arrested for the crime nearly one month after it had occurred. They say they were tortured by police for days—through suffocation, beatings, and threats—into confessing.

Although the suspects’ ages are listed on documents as ranging between 18 and 25, their parents insist that at least two of them are minors at 15 and 16 years old, but had lied about their ages in order to obtain permission to work in Thailand.

Htoo Chit is the executive director and founder of the Foundation for Education Development (FED), which has prepared documents, evidence and witnesses for the defense in the ongoing investigation.

“We can say that the court hearing looks fair enough, so far, and our defense lawyers are well prepared,” he told The Irrawaddy on Friday, highlighting the strength of the defense team’s witness list, which includes the suspects’ relatives and Thai employers, migrant community leaders, special Thai police, and members of Thailand’s National Human Rights Commission.

Htoo Chit also emphasized what he feels is some of the strongest evidence—that DNA taken from the crime scene and believed to belong to Orawee Sampaotong’s killer, did not match that of any of the four suspects.

Kittin Mewutsom, the head of the Ranong hospital where Orawee Sampaotong’s death was investigated, testified on Aug. 31 that he did not believe the Burmese workers were involved in the murder.

Court hearings are scheduled to continue through November of this year, with a verdict to be expected early in 2017. In the meantime, Htoo Chit and FED are looking to the Burmese government for further support in ensuring that the four Burmese nationals get a fair trial in Thailand, where, he points out, migrant workers are often “scapegoated” for crimes.

“We need the Myanmar government’s involvement. Related government agencies must collaborate with NGOs, CBOs, and migrant communities which are working on the case,” he said, adding that the Burmese government has an obligation “to protect and provide legal assistance to Myanmar migrant workers in Thailand.”

The case in Ranong has been compared to the high-profile murder of two British backpackers on the Thai island of Koh Tao in September of 2014, in which two Burmese migrant workers were arrested and charged with the crime three months after it had occurred. They were sentenced to death, despite rights groups’ objections to police conduct, concerns about the handling of evidence, and abuse of the suspects during the investigation. They remain in prison, and have filed an appeal.