Govt Promises to Assist Migrant Workers Sentenced to Death in Koh Tao Murder Case

By Nyein Nyein 3 March 2017

The NLD government is concerned after a Thai appeal court’s decision to uphold a death sentence handed down to two Burmese migrants for the 2014 murder and rape of two British backpackers on Koh Tao island, and has pledged to continue its assistance to the legal defense team.

U Zaw Htay, the President Office’s spokesperson and acting director general of the State Counselor’s Office—both ministries head by the Daw Aung San Suu Kyi—said the government has reached out to the Burmese embassy in Thailand and members of the legal team in Bangkok in order to establish the best approach.

“The appeal to the high court is very important for them,” U Zaw Htay said of the defendants, Zaw Lin and Win Zaw Htun, and the appeal planned for Thailand’s Supreme Court. “The government is worried about them.”

He added that State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi was saddened by the news reported on March 1 by Thai media of the appeal court’s rejection, and added that the government would “do everything in our power to help.”

Representatives from the Burmese embassy will pay an official visit to Win Zaw Htun and Zaw Lin next Friday, March 10, about which they have already informed the Thai authorities, according to U Htoo Chit, the director of the Foundation for Education Development, an organization that assists Burmese migrant workers in Thailand.

On Friday, the Burmese embassy’s Deputy Chief of Mission Hau Khan Sum led Burmese diplomats in a meeting with U Htoo Chit and they talked about migrant issues, including about the circumstances of the two defendants in the Koh Tao murder case.

U Htoo Chit said the embassy was not officially informed about the case by the Thai government, and therefore, his team briefed the representatives in the meeting, including Hau Khan Sum, who is the acting head of the embassy.

Both Zaw Lin and Win Zaw Htun are in good health and “are hopeful about their next appeal,” said Sein Htay, the director of the Migrant Workers Rights Network (MWRN). MWRN staff and a Thai lawyer from the Lawyer’s Council of Thailand met the two men at Bangkok’s Bang Kwang central prison on Friday.

“Zaw Lin and Win Zaw Htun said they were read the verdict of the appeal court on Feb. 23 at the Nonthaburi court, without the presence of their lawyer nor the translator,” U Sein Htay told The Irrawaddy on Friday.

“The appeal court’s proceedings were not transparent,” added U Sein Htay, referring to the circumstances described by the defendants. Lawyers are reportedly able to meet the two Burmese men around once a month.

“They [Zaw Lin and Win Zaw Htun] expressed their thanks to all the lawyers and persons and organizations helping them, and they told the lawyer that they request further support,” U Sein Htay added.

In Thailand, there are over 3,000 Burmese migrant workers imprisoned with lengthy sentences in more than one hundred prisons, under the charges ranging from drug trafficking to illegal logging. U Htoo Chit said they have also sought support from the embassy to help these inmates, to be able to meet them, and to better understand their cases.

Nang Lwin Hnin Pwint contributed to this report.