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Myanmar Migrants Released as Murder Convictions Overturned in Thailand

By Nyein Nyein 27 June 2019

YANGON—Two Myanmar migrants serving six- and eight-year sentences for the alleged murder of a Thai woman in Ranong, Thailand in 2015 won their appeal in a southern Thailand court Wednesday.

Sein Kadone and Wai Lin—who received eight- and six-year sentences, respectively—had been in prison for three years and eight months. They were finally released on Thursday.

On Oct. 28, 2015, four Myanmar citizens—Sein Kadone, Wai Lin, Moe Zin Aung and Kyaw Soe Win—were arrested and charged on five counts for the gruesome murder of Orawee Sampaotong, a 17-year-old Thai woman, a month prior. The Ranong provincial court handed down guilty verdicts in April 2018.

Moe Zin Aung and Kyaw Soe Win, both minors at the time of sentencing, received sentences of four years and two years, respectively, from the Juvenile Court of Ranong, but were released last year.

Since their arrests, observers and family members have claimed the four migrants were forced to confess under torture during interrogation by Thai police.

Their families said the men and boys were on fishing boats out at sea for the majority of their time in Thailand, and only ever on land for five or six days a month.

U Min Oo, a migrant rights advocate at the Foundation for Education Development (FED), told The Irrawaddy on Thursday that the two men are currently in the custody of Thai immigration officials in Ranong, and that they’ll be officially returned to Myanmar next week.

“As soon as we heard that the appeal had been won, we went to meet Wai Lin and Sein Kadone. Sein Kadone is eager to go back to his home in Myeik, in southern Myanmar,” U Min Oo said.

He said Thai officials had not relayed the court decision to the defense lawyers, who received the news from the two mens’ relatives.

“They said they did not expect it,” U Min Oo said, speaking of Sein Kadone and Wai Lin, but added that they expressed their gratitude to all the groups and individuals that supported them.

Daw Ni Tut, Sein Kadone’s mother, said her son’s release was unexpected.

“I met him this morning and I am happy,” she said.

Despite being released, the two must remain in the custody of immigration authorities while going through the official return process.

In Thailand, police and immigration officers make regular arrests of migrants illegally entering Thailand over land borders from neighboring countries, including Myanmar, and regularly return them through border checkpoints. In Ranong, Thai immigration authorities return detained migrants from Myanmar every Tuesday and Thursday.

Sein Kadone and Wai Lin will be returned to Myanmar next Tuesday.

The murder in Ranong occurred a year after an infamous case in which two Myanmar migrants were arrested and charged with the rape and murder of two British backpackers on Koh Tao island, in southern Thailand, in September 2014. The two were convicted and sentenced to death in December 2015. They are still in prison appealing their convictions.

The two cases highlight the way Myanmar migrants have become easy scapegoats for violent crime in Thailand.

U Min Oo said his law team has helped in both cases, and they are hoping for good news in the Koh Tao island case as well.

Defense lawyers had presented key pieces of evidence in support of Sein Kadone and Wai Lin’s innocence, including DNA evidence, CCTV footage and the alibi provided by their employer.

“In the case of the Ranong murder, we had all the supporting evidence to prove the accused are innocent, and I myself was present when there were crime re-enactments [during the police investigation] and was able to talk to the suspects personally,” he said.

In the Koh Tao case, he said, there is less available evidence.

There were 2.2 million Myanmar migrants officially registered in Thailand as of September last year, but many more cross the border every day. Labor rights groups and non-governmental organizations believe the number of Myanmar migrants is higher than official figures, with many remaining undocumented.

U Min Oo said Myanmar migrants often face false accusations or become suspects in criminal investigations they had no part in in Thailand, including murders, rapes, drug offenses and other crimes.

If they are provided with consistent legal help, he added, they could be freed from the burden of having to appeal wrongful convictions.

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