RANGOON — A smattering of Burmese activists held two days of protests against the arrest of a pair of Burmese migrants accused of murdering two tourists on southern Thailand’s Koh Tao island last month, as Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha arrived in Rangoon on Friday for the second day of his first overseas trip since taking the helm of the military-ruled country.
A group of about 20 Burmese led by the Movement for Democracy Current Force held a protest and prayer vigil at downtown Rangoon’s Sule Pagoda on Thursday evening, holding placards that urged the former general turned prime minister “to let the accused two Burmese receive the benefit of the doubt.”
“We just want justice for them,” said Ba Myint, one of the leaders of Thursday’s protest. “We are not asking for their unconditional acquittal in the case.”
Another sign called for “the Burmese President and Thai Prime Minister to protect the two Burmese in accordance with the rule of law.”
A group led by Nay Myo Zin, a Burmese social activist, held a separate demonstration in front of nearby Mahabandoola Park on Friday morning. They were denied permission to protest in front of the Thai Embassy and at Rangoon International Airport after discussions with Rangoon Division’s border security minister proved unsuccessful in securing the OK, Nay Myo Zin said.
Friday’s protest brought only a handful of activists out, with organizers saying turnout was affected by the short amount of time that they had secured for the event.
“We urge them [the Thai government] to strictly investigate, from the start, the case of the two Burmese workers accused in the Koh Tao murder, with the help of an international investigation,” Nay Myo Zin said.
The murders of British nationals Hannah Witheridge, 23, and David Miller, 24, on Koh Tao in Thailand’s Surat Thani province, have come under scrutiny both in Thailand and abroad, with Thai investigators being criticized for their handling of the case. Suspicions have mounted in recent days that the Burmese migrant workers in custody may be scapegoats, as allegations have surfaced that Thai police extracted their confessions by torturing them during interrogation.
The two accused migrants, Zaw Lin and Win Zaw Htun, are both from Burma’s Arakan State.
Burma’s commander-in-chief, Snr-Gen Min Aung Hlaing, reportedly pressed the issue with Thai Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Affairs Minister H.E. Mr. Tanasak on Thursday.
“Senior General Min Aung Hlaing called for justice in the case of Koh Tao murder case in which two Myanmar migrant workers are being arrested as the suspects,” read a report in the state-run New Light of Myanmar on Friday.
“He also said that it is important that ‘many guilty persons should escape unpunished, than one innocent person should suffer,’ as he sought the help of Thai government to special investigation team of Myanmar Embassy in Thailand freely and transparently,” the article continued.