Thai Court Accepts Defense Appeal in Koh Tao Murder Case

By Nyein Nyein 23 May 2016

CHIANG MAI, Thailand — Thailand’s Region 8 Appeals Court accepted an appeal filed by defense lawyers for two Burmese migrant workers who were sentenced to death for the murder of two British backpackers on Thailand’s Koh Tao Island in 2014, according to Win Maung, Burma’s ambassador to Thailand.

The 198-page appeal submitted to the court on Monday contests the Koh Samui provincial court’s ruling late last year. Nearly half of the appeal outlines issues related to DNA evidence accepted by the court, according to the defense team.

The final verdict was made in December 2015, with the court ruling that the prosecution had proved beyond all reasonable doubt, with the use of forensic evidence in accordance with international standards, that Zaw Lin and Win Zaw Htun, also known as Wai Phyo, had committed the murders. But the case was highly controversial and fraught with allegations of forced confessions and irregular evidence.

Despite Thai and international forensic experts citing serious questions and doubts about the forensic evidence used in the case, the provincial court gave the defendants the death penalty.

The defendants were allowed to file an appeal in February, but the defense team, supported by a group of Burmese, Australian and British translators, assistants and advisors, requested an extension and took a full five months to finalize their lengthy appeal in order to ensure an adequate defense.

Thai lawyer Nahkon Chompuchat, who is one of the lead defense attorneys in the case, said the appeal was only the next step in an interminable process that could drag on for another year or two.

The prosecution will respond to the defense appeal and the Region 8 Appeals Court will review the case, likely within 2017, and send a judgment back to the Koh Samui court to deliver.

Zaw Lin’s mother Phyu Shwe Nu remains optimistic about the outcome.

“I hope Thailand’s justice system will stand for the truth,” she told The Irrawaddy on Monday.

Min Oo from the Foundation for Education and Development, which has provided assistance to the defense team, said the court provided a certified letter that they had received the appeal and confirmed the acceptance Monday afternoon.

The convicts’ mothers, who believe their sons are innocent, will visit them on Tuesday in the high-security Bang Kawg Prison, where they have been held since January.