The Burmese government has vowed to continue assisting two migrant workers accused of murdering British tourists David Miller and Hannah Witheridge in Thailand, after the pair were sentenced to death by the Koh Samui provincial court on Thursday.
Hours after the verdict, President’s Office director Zaw Htay wrote on Facebook that the government would support Zaw Lin and Wai Phyo, both 22, during their expected appeals.
“The Burmese government will continue to help through diplomatic channels without damaging Thailand’s sovereignty, its independent court ruling and bilateral relations between Burma and Thailand,” he said, adding that if needed the government would appeal to the Thai Privy Council for a reduction in the sentences.
There are an estimated 3 million Burmese migrants working in Thailand, only around 1.7 million of whom are officially registered with the Thai government. Win Maung, Burma’s ambassador to Thailand, told The Irrawaddy that his embassy dealt with reports of serious assaults involving Burmese migrant workers on an average of twice per week. His office has been following the case against Zaw Lin and Wai Phyo since their arrest last year.
Speaking to The Irrawaddy during a brief phone interview on Thursday, Win Maung said the embassy would continue to offer assistance to the pair in accordance with Thai law.
How will the embassy continue to support the defendants after they were sentenced to death.
We will continue our assistance through our legal support team. We have prepared for the verdict and planned for an appeal if the verdict declared them guilty.
Was the verdict too harsh for the accused?
It is within their law. We talked about it constantly with Thailand’s government whenever we could—not only me, but also our President [Thein Sein] and the Commander-in-Chief [Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing] when they visited. Regarding this case, it might related to the political situation, I think. We will just go along with the legal procedure. It might change at the appeal. We don’t know yet, but we will keep offering support through legal channels.
Are you going to meet with any Thai officials to discuss the case?
We will sort it out through the legal procedures. Also our leaders raised the case in their talks during their official state visits. We will appeal step by step and will also appeal through our diplomatic channels, as we have been doing as usual.
What can the embassy do to assist migrants in similar situations that arise in the future?
We have the embassy-led migrant workers’ protection team in 40 of Thailand’s 77 provinces. But do not have enough labor attaches and officials to support all the migrants. (Editor’s note: there are currently two Burmese labor attaches working out of the embassy in Thailand.) I would urge them to say home at midnight, as majority of the cases that reach us us occur at that time. It was easy for others to blame migrants outside at night for any crimes that occurred. Our migrant workers’ protection team can only protect them half the time and they have to take care of themselves for the other half.