RANGOON — Two Burmese migrant workers should not be the primary suspects in an increasingly high-profile double murder case in Thailand, a migrant rights group says, as a pre-trial hearing got underway on Tuesday.
Htoo Chit, executive director of the Foundation for Education and Development (FED), said his group had interviewed the two suspects, three witnesses that prosecutors will use, and Thai and Burmese citizens living on the island of Koh Tao, where the murders took place. The Thailand-based NGO made a fact-finding mission from Oct. 4 to 9, during which they bore witness to injuries on some Burmese migrants who were interrogated that were indicative of torture, as has previously been alleged.
“According to our own findings from the ground, these kids [the suspects] are not the main persons involved in the murder cases. We believe they are being used unjustly as scapegoats,” Htoo Chit said at a press conference on Tuesday in Rangoon.
“We will protect them under the law.”
The parents of the two suspects, Win Zaw Htun and Zaw Lin, arrived in Rangoon this week from Arakan State, and will have the opportunity to meet their sons in Thailand at the arrangement of the Burmese Embassy in Bangkok and FED.
Britons Hannah Witheridge and David Miller were murdered on Koh Tao in Thailand’s Surat Thani province on Sept. 15. In the weeks since, Thai authorities have faced criticism for their handling of the case, and Htoo Chit is not the first to use the word “scapegoats” in reference to the two Burmese defendants.
Htoo Chit said bringing the parents to Thailand might be helpful for the case as the suspects might be more willing to reveal any important information that they have not yet divulged.
The Bangkok Post reported on Monday that three witnesses to be used by Thai prosecutors didn’t witness much, and were not likely to provide incriminating testimony.
One of the witnesses, Maung Maung, told Htoo Chit that his friends, the accused, did not commit the crime. The other two witnesses, Aung Zaw Lin and Ni Ni Aung, gave pre-trial testimony before a judge on Tuesday.
When asked how lawyers for the migrants were preparing to defend them, Htoo Chit said they would request an 800-page report that has been compiled by Thai investigators.
“After studying that report, we will find witnesses [to support the defendants].”
The parents of both suspects say their sons are not “delinquent types” and were earning wages as migrant workers to help feed their families back in Burma. The father of Win Zaw Htun said he did not believe his son was capable of committing the crime.
“It’s not possible,” Htun Htun Htike, the father of Win Zaw Htun, told the press on Tuesday. “He is just this short. The British citizens were so tall. We know just by sight that it’s not possible to kill these two people. My son is well-behaved, respects his elders.”