Koh Tao Defense Lawyer: ‘It is a Saddening Verdict’

By Kyaw Kha 25 December 2015

RANGOON — A Koh Samui Court on Thursday sentenced two Burmese migrants, Zaw Lin and Wai Phyo, to death over the killing of two British backpackers on a Thai resort island in September last year. The handling of the high-profile case by Thai police had attracted significant scrutiny amid allegations that the Burmese pair were tortured into a confession and that key evidence was mishandled. Aung Myo Thant, a Burmese lawyer who has been acting for the defendants, spoke with The Irrawaddy’s Kyaw Kha on Thursday after the verdict.

Burmese migrants Wai Phyo and Zaw Lin were given the death penalty on Thursday. Legal experts have said the case was flawed. What’s your view?

The court gave them separate penalties for seven charges. The maximum penalty for illegally entering Thailand is six months’ imprisonment and the two were given the maximum penalty—six months. Again, the maximum penalty for illegally living in Thailand is also six months’ imprisonment and they were given the maximum penalty for this charge too. I can’t understand why. I was told while I was acting for them that we would not win the case because Koh Samui, Koh Pha Ngan and Koh Tao islands are mafia islands, but at that time I didn’t take it seriously. I can’t understand why they were given maximum penalties.

The Thai Lawyers’ Council and the Thai Human Rights Commission have helped the two Burmese migrants together with your team. What did they say about the death sentence and what will the Burmese authorities do?

We’ve reported it to the Burmese Ambassador to Thailand. We will appeal to Thailand’s Appeals Court in Bangkok. The Thai Lawyers’ Council has the same idea. We have copied the [court] order and we’ll write an appeal based on the court order and dossier and submit it to the Bangkok Appeals Court.

What can you expect from doing so?

If the appeal is granted, the penalty will not be more than ten years. I am 80 percent sure of this.

Are you disappointed that they were given the death penalty though they seemed to have had a good chance of acquittal?

I have no comment about the jurisdiction. But it saddens me… It is a saddening verdict.

Though the Burmese government was helping the pair, they were given the maximum penalty even for lesser offences. Doesn’t this mean no regard was paid to the Burmese government?

I have no comment about the jurisdiction of Thailand. After the two were sentenced despite the Burmese government’s special attention to the case, I think it would be better if the Burmese government could better assist Burmese migrant workers in Thailand. Because I have almost never seen the accused given the death penalty when there were no eyewitnesses.

There are many cases of Burmese migrant workers being wrongly accused in Thailand. So, will the death penalty heighten the concerns of Burmese migrant workers?

I see that much needs to be done for Burmese migrant workers to receive fair hearings.