CHIANG MAI, Thailand – A provincial court in Ranong, Thailand, has found four Myanmar migrant workers guilty of charges related to the killing of a Thai woman in 2015 and on Thursday sentenced two of them to eight and six years imprisonment.
The suspects – Wai Lin, Sein Kadone, Moe Zin Aung and Kyaw Soe Win – were arrested on Oct. 28, 2015 for the gruesome murder of a 17-year-old Thai woman, Orawee Sampaotong, a month earlier. They were charged with a total of five counts including murder.
Sein Kadone was sentenced to eight years in prison while Wai Lin received six years, after the judge of the Ranong provincial court handed down the guilty verdicts. In addition, they were both ordered to pay fines of 570,000 baht.
Moe Zin Aung and Kyaw Soe Win, who were both minors at the time of the crime, were sentenced to four and two years jail, respectively, by the Juvenile Court of Ranong. The court also ordered Moe Zin Aung to pay an 810,000 baht fine and Kyaw Soe Win to pay 270,000 baht.
The final verdicts came two and half years after the foursome’s initial arrest, and followed 76 court hearings.
Kyaw Soe Win, 17, will be released from prison on Thursday as he has already served 2 years and five months in prison. He will be returned to Myanmar authorities and then to his home in Myeik Township, Tanintharyi Region.
Moe Zin Aung will be released in eight months when he turns 18, according to his mother, Daw Ei Ei Moe, who said his birthday was on Dec. 3
After the verdict was issued, Daw Ei Ei Moe told The Irrawaddy that the ruling was “unfair, as my son did not commit the crime.”
She blamed her son’s naiveté and his belief that “he would be out of trouble if he did what the police told him to do during a crime re-enactment after they were arrested.”
“It took about four, five, six days to do that crime re-enactment and they were beaten for not being able to perform it the way they had been taught,” she said, insisting that her son and the other three were forced to plead guilty to a crime they did not commit.
The mother said she could not believe the bad luck that had led to her son and the other migrant workers being arrested because the young men were usually on land for only 5-6 days a month as most of the time they were on fishing boats at sea. Moe Zin Aung had been working as part of a fishing crew for about a year when he was arrested, she said.
The suspects’ defense lawyer will appeal the ruling, said U Min Oo, a migrant rights advocate at the Foundation for Education Development (FED), who has been helping with the case.
“I don’t think the ruling was just,” U Min Oo told The Irrawaddy, because most of the evidence presented by the prosecution was rejected as implausible.
He said the defense lawyers presented key pieces of evidence in support of the men’s innocence but to no avail, because blurred CCTV footage was accepted over clearer footage along with DNA evidence from the woman’s dead body that was incomplete. In addition, the four migrants were forced to confess under police torture during interrogation, he said.
Daw Ei Ei Moe said that continuing the legal struggle would be worthwhile if it helped other Myanmar workers better understand the possible risks they faced in Thailand.
“If this case brings some awareness to other migrants [from Myanmar] about the dangers that they could face in Thailand, it will be worth it to appeal,” she said.
Myanmar migrants in Thailand have been seen as easy scapegoats for a string of crimes including the rape and murder of two tourists on Koh Tao Island in southern Thailand in 2014. Two Myanmar migrant workers were sentenced to death in December 2015 for the murder of the two British backpackers in September 2014. The verdict on their latest appeal has yet to be handed down.