A court verdict in Thailand, convicting a pair of Burmese migrant workers of the murder of two young British tourists on the holiday island of Koh Tao, has prompted mass protests in Myanmar.
Human rights groups are questioning the verdict, though the family of one of the victims says the verdict is absolutely correct and justice has been served.
The case attracted massive publicity last year. See: Sensational tourist murder trial underway in Thailand. It has now resulted in Burmese bar workers Zaw Lin and Wai Phyo being sentenced to death for the murder of British backpackers Hannah Witheridge, 23, and 24-year-old David Miller, in September 2015.
The pair were attacked on a beach late at night, Witheridge being raped and beaten to death, while Miller was bashed over the head, allegedly with a garden hoe, and left to drown in the surf.
For a long time, police investigations seemed to be getting no closer to finding the murderer or murderers. Initial leads turned out to be red herrings and no charges were laid. See our report at the time: Hunt for murderer of tourists grips Thai full-moon island
Police then said DNA evidence tied the two workers to the crime. The defence team argued that the men’s confessions had been extracted under torture and the DNA evidence had been so badly mishandled it was worthless.
Last week, hundreds of people in Myanmar took to the streets in Yangon over the verdict, saying the two accused are innocent. The Thai Embassy in Myanmar closed its consular section because “unexpected and prolonged demonstrations” made it hard to enter the building. It will remain closed this week.
The family of victim David Miller, however, have absolutely no doubt the two accused are guilty and the court got it right.
A statement read outside the court by David’s brother Michael, flanked by parents Ian and Sue, just after the verdicts were delivered, said:
“We believe that the result today represents justice for David and Hannah.
“Like many people we were initially unsure what to think when Zaw Lin and Wai Phyo were detained as suspects.
“We saw images of two innocent looking men surrounded by tough policemen.
“It was easy to conclude they might just be convenient scapegoats. However we resolved to keep an open mind until we had heard all the evidence.
“Concern for the accused has been widespread. A petition was organised and funds were raise for their benefit. A group of activists became involved and has promoted their cause vigorously to the media.
“Ultimately Zaw Lin and Wai Phyo obtained the best possible representation in court via a team of seven top lawyers.
“Over the last few months we have attended many of the court hearings and we have gained real respect for this court.
“The judges have been invariably diligent, attentive, fair and extraordinarily hard working.
“David always stood up for justice, and justice is what had been delivered today. We respect this court and its decision completely.
“As the trial has progressed we came to realise that the police investigation and the forensic work performed was not the so called shambles it was made out to be.
“We believe that after a difficult start the Royal Thai Police conducted a methodical and thorough investigation.
“Having listened carefully to all the evidence and despite what their lawyers say, it is our opinion that the evidence against Wai Phyo and Zaw Lin is absolutely overwhelming.
“They raped to satisfy their selfish desires and murdered to cover up that fact.
“They have shown no remorse during the trial. Initially they confessed for almost two weeks and then recanted in an attempt to avoid justice.
“We hope the campaigners who have relentlessly publicised this case will respect the process of law and the decision of the court. We believe the correct verdict has been reached.”
Zaw Lin and Wai Phyo have lodged an appeal. Thailand has not executed anyone since 2009, despite having over 450 prisoners on death row.
Written by Peter Needham