Burma

Myanmar Ambassador Meets with 2 Migrant Workers on Death Row in Thailand

By Nyein Nyein 6 September 2019

CHIANG MAI, Thailand—Myanmar Ambassador to Thailand U Myo Myint Than on Thursday met with two Myanmar migrant workers who are on death row in a prison near Bangkok for the 2014 murders of two British tourists on the island of Koh Tao. The ambassador told them the Myanmar government is assisting their legal team’s efforts to submit a request for a royal pardon to the Thai king.

Many observers have criticized the evidence on which the workers’ convictions were based as flawed.

The ambassador met for one hour with Win Zaw Htun and Zaw Lin at Bang Kwang Prison on Sept. 5, two days after a senior Myanmar military officer went to meet the pair.

U Aung Myo Thant, a lawyer on the defense team, told The Irrawaddy, “They were happy when they saw the ambassador and his delegation. The ambassador explained to them the additional steps that are needed in their royal pardon process. They [the convicts] requested [the officials’] help and said they would try to stay healthy and focused in prison.”

On Aug. 29, Thailand’s Supreme Court upheld the convictions and death sentences of Zaw Lin and Win Zaw Htun initially handed down by the Koh Samui Court for the September 2014 murders of tourists Hannah Witheridge, 23, and David Miller, 24. The men—both in their early 20s at the time of their arrests—were also convicted of raping Witheridge. Both have consistently denied the charges and claimed Thai police coerced their confessions.

Following the Supreme Court’s verdict, the pair’s only remaining option is to submit a request for a royal pardon to the Thai king within 60 days.

The investigation was criticized for failing to properly gather DNA from the victims’ clothes, and experts have said the convictions were based upon flawed forensic evidence.

In Myanmar, groups supporting the two men have staged multiple protests since the case first emerged. At demonstrations in front of the Thai Embassy in Yangon soon after the original verdict was announced in 2015, protesters said the pair were scapegoated for the brutal crime.

On Monday, supporters of the two workers, including monks, gathered in front of Yangon’s City Hall, requesting “compassion” from Thai King Maha Vajiralongkorn to spare the men’s lives. They also sent a letter to the Thai Embassy in Yangon.

U Aung Myo Thant said the ambassador told Zaw Lin and Win Zaw Htun that he would try to bring their parents to meet them soon.

The ambassador also met with representatives of the Lawyers Council of Thailand (LCT) on Thursday. During the meeting, U Aung Myo Thant said the Myanmar officials were somewhat relieved to learn that Thailand does not execute condemned prisoners for at least eight years after sentencing, and that efforts are under way in the country to abolish capital punishment.

Lawyers from the LCT involved in the Koh Tao case were due to meet to discuss it on Friday. U Aung Myo Thant said the legal team would have a clearer idea of how to proceed with the royal pardon process after the meeting.

“More than 20 lawyers from the LCT are helping with the Koh Tao case and they will inform us, via the Myanmar Embassy, of what needs to be done and how. Only after we hear from them can we say how we will proceed,” he said.

On Tuesday, Myanmar military commander-in-chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing asked Thai Prime Minister General Prayut Chan-ocha to help seek a reduction in the death sentences. On the same day, General Mya Tun Oo, Chief of the General Staff (Army, Navy and Air) of the Myanmar military, visited the men at Bang Kwang Prison.

As Thailand hosts more than 3 million Myanmar migrant workers, the controversial case has caught the public’s attention.

Public interest has also mounted in Myanmar as to how the government will respond to the case. During the previous administration led by President U Thein Sein, the speakers of the Union Parliament raised concerns in regards to the case with the Thai officials. The Myanmar Embassy has also gotten involved, forming a special investigation team in late 2014.

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