RANGOON — A team formed by the Burmese government to investigate the Koh Tao case has announced that it is confident the two Burmese nationals accused of the double murder are innocent of the crime.
Three members of a special support team operating out of the Burmese Embassy in Thailand told a press conference on Thursday that Zaw Lin and Win Zaw Htun, both 21, would be exonerated of the September murder of British tourists Hannah Witheridge and David Miller in Koh Tao, but it will take time, money and effort for the truth to be fully revealed.
“However the Thai judiciary decides on the case, it is our belief that these two kids did not commit the crime,” said Htoo Chit, a spokesman for the investigation. “According to what we know and eyewitness information we have gathered, we believe they are innocent.”
As a longtime migrant rights activist and executive director of the Foundation for Education and Development, Htoo Chit said that the case against the pair had important ramifications for migrant workers in Thailand from across the region.
“This case is not only about Zaw Lin and Win Zaw Htun,” he said. “This is also about protecting the rights of millions of migrants from Laos, Cambodia and Myanmar who came to work in Thailand due to economic hardship.”
Aung Myo Thant, a Burmese lawyer who is part of the Burmese Embassy’s special support team for the defendants, told the press conference that the translator used during the police interrogation of the suspects falsely claimed to be a representative of the embassy, and told the suspects that they would be subject to a lighter penalty if they admitted their guilt.
“According to the Thai law, the translator used in Police station and court must hold a certificate recognized by the state,” he said. “But the translators used in Surat Thani and in Koh Samui had no accreditation.”
The investigating team said they had identified at least three key witnesses for the defense case in Rakhine State, Sagaing Division and Tenasserim Division, but they are unwilling to testify for fear it will jeopardize their future chances of working in Thailand.
“Cooperation from migrants living at [Koh Tao] is also weak,” said Htoo Chit. “They could be threatened. This is our main challenge. If a witness came forward who knew the events and testified, this case could be turned upside down.”
The Thai National Human Rights Commission, Lawyers Council of Thailand and various individuals have also assisted the Burmese government’s investigating team in locating witnesses. Htoo Chit expressed confidence that the upcoming trial would vindicate the pair if conducted fairly.
“We will win if this case is conducted with justice under the rule of law,” Htoo Chit said.
Zaw Lin and Win Zaw Htun were indicted on Dec. 4 and pleaded not guilty to all charges. A preliminary hearing for the pair will be held on Dec. 26.