Thai Supreme Court Upholds Death Sentences for 2 Myanmar Migrant Workers

By Nyein Nyein 29 August 2019

CHIANG MAI, Thailand—Thailand’s Supreme Court on Thursday upheld the convictions and death sentences of Myanmar migrant workers Zaw Lin and Win Zaw Htun for the 2014 murders of two British nationals on the island of Koh Tao.

The pair listened to the court reject their appeals via videoconference with the aid of a translator at Nonthaburi Provincial Court north of Bangkok, not far from Bang Kwang Prison, where they have been imprisoned since 2015.

The pair have been detained for almost four years since their arrest in October 2014. Both have consistently denied the charges and claimed Thai police coerced their confessions.

The Koh Samui Court convicted Win Zaw Htun and Zaw Lin—both in their early 20s at the time—of the September 2014 murders of British tourists Hannah Witheridge, 23, and David Miller, 24, on Koh Tao island and sentenced them to death in December 2015.

The defense team for the two convicts—comprising members of the Lawyers Council of Thailand and members of labor-rights NGOs—submitted a 319-page appeal to Thailand’s Supreme Court in August 2017.

A previous appeal was rejected by a lower court in January 2017.

U Htoo Chit, the director of the Foundation for Education Development, who was present at the Nonthaburi Court for Thursday’s decision, said “the appeal today was lost.”

He said, “We have one last option, which is to submit a request for a royal pardon to the Thai king within 60 days.” He said that when he talked to the pair, “They told us again that, ‘We did not kill them; we request help from the Myanmar government.’”

U Aung Myo Thant, a defense lawyer in the case, told The Irrawaddy that the legal team would prepare the request for a royal pardon. “We have just spoken to Thai lawyers about submitting a request for a royal pardon,” he said.

Regarding the pardon, U Htoo Chit said, “Our lawyer friends from the Lawyers Council of Thailand suggested it would be more effective if the Myanmar government acts on behalf of the defendants’ families.”

U Aung Kyaw Thura, minister counselor at the Myanmar Embassy in Bangkok, and the convicts’ legal defense team were present at the Nonthaburi Provincial Court on Thursday and also met with the pair.

Andy Hall, a migrant worker rights specialist who advised the team, told The Irrawaddy by email that, “I respect the verdict delivered by Thailand’s Supreme Court in the Koh Tao murder case today. However, after having seen so much of the evidence presented in court or otherwise in this case as international affairs adviser to the official legal defense team, I consider that the death penalty sentence and conviction of … Zaw Lin and Wai Phyo [Win Zaw Htun], should instead have been reversed and quashed by the Supreme Court.”

He added that the conviction and sentence were inconsistent with “accepted criminal burden of proof requirements needed to be satisfied to impose such a conviction, particularly as concerns international DNA and forensics standards.”

Hall described the DNA and forensic evidence upon which the conviction was based as “fundamentally flawed” and “unreliable” by international standards.

“Based on all the varied evidence I have seen over the years, the collection, transporting, testing, analysis, reporting and storage of forensics or DNA evidence used in the Koh Tao murder case didn’t comply with ISO17025 and ILAC G19 international standards,” Hall said.

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