Parallels Drawn Between Ranong Murder, Koh Tao Case        

By Moe Myint 30 May 2016

RANGOON — Htoo Chit, executive director of the Foundation for Education and Development (FED), argued at a press conference on Monday that four Burmese migrant workers are being scapegoated in a case he says smacks of the high-profile Koh Tao double murder that saw two Burmese men controversially convicted and sentenced to death.

Orawee Sampaotong, a 17-year-old Thai high school student, was killed on Sept. 28 in Thailand’s Ranong province, which borders Burma. Police allegedly found no leads in the case after investigating for nearly a month, but on Oct. 20, four Burmese migrant workers—Kyaw Soe Win, Moe Zin Aung, Sein Ka Tone and Wai Lin—were arrested near Kuraburi seaport, located more than 60 miles from Ranong province, Htoo Chit said.

A year before, in September 2014, two British backpackers were murdered on the Thai island of Koh Tao. A pair of Burmese migrant workers were eventually arrested by police and, on Dec. 24 of last year, sentenced to death by a court in Koh Samui, despite vocal claims of malfeasance in investigators’ handling of the evidence and police conduct in their interrogations of the suspects.

Htoo Chit said he believed this most recent murder investigation was meant to “trap” the migrant workers as some say was done in the Koh Tao case, citing holes in the investigation.

For instance, although police say they found several scars on Moe Zin Aung’s face allegedly made by scratches from the victim, Htoo Chit said that, according to the suspect’s family, the scars were the result of injuries from a bicycle accident a week prior to his detention.

The suspects’ employer has also sought to prove his workers’ innocence, saying the victim was killed around 9 pm on Sept. 28, but that his employees were still working at his fish factory close to the time of the murder, at 8 pm. However, after examining CCTV footage, Ranong police said there was no evidence that the men were at work at that time.

According to a report released by FED at the press conference in Rangoon, the employer said that he was “surprised” that his employees had “disappeared from the CCTV footage” after police took it from him because, he claims, he had seen the four migrants on the footage “with [his] own eyes.”

The four suspects are currently being held in different prisons. FED intends to deliver documents and reports to Thai authorities and to the Myanmar Human Rights Commission, the Ministry of Labor, Immigration and Population, and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the latter headed by Aung San Suu Kyi.

According to Htoo Chit, who estimates that there are more than 1,000 Burmese migrant workers in Thai prisons, 29 people are willing to testify on behalf of the four suspects.