British backpackers murder trial extended in Thailand

Myanmar national Zaw Lin (right) arrives in a prison transport van outside Koh Samui courthouse as fellow Myanmar national Win Zaw Tun follows on the Thai resort island of Koh Samui on Jul 9, 2015.
Myanmar national Zaw Lin (right) arrives in a prison transport van outside Koh Samui courthouse as fellow Myanmar national Win Zaw Tun follows on the Thai resort island of Koh Samui on Jul 9, 2015.PHOTO: AFP

KOH SAMUI, Thailand (Reuters) - Lawyers for two Myanmar migrant workers accused of killing two British tourists in Thailand were on Friday granted more time to organise their defence, which could put back a verdict that had been expected next month, one of the lawyers said.

The battered bodies of backpackers Hannah Witheridge and David Miller, both in their 20s, were found on the southern holiday island of Koh Tao last year. Post-mortem examination showed Witheridge had been raped.

The killings raised questions about the safety of tourists in Thailand, the competence of its police and its treatment of migrant workers.

Lawyers for the accused Myanmar men, Zaw Lin and Win Zaw Htun, both 22, had appealed for more time to show the pair were scapegoats.

Chief defence lawyer Nakhon Chompuchat told reporters the court had decided to allow some extra time and would decide later on Friday how much to grant.

"There will be an extension," Nakhon said outside the court on the neighbouring island of Samui. "It is just a question of for how long."

The trial of the two Myanmar men has been mired in controversy, with their lawyers complaining of a patchy police investigation marred by disputed forensics, a contaminated crime scene and selective use of surveillance video to implicate the accused.

The defendants accused police of torturing them into making confessions, which they later retracted. Zaw Lin told the court he was threatened with death if he did not confess to the crime.

On Thursday, an investigator from the National Human Rights Council, Janjira Kanpeang, testified how the commission found that torture had been used during their interrogation.

Police have denied mistreating the Myanmar men and have stood by their investigation. Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha has said "nobody would dare" go after the wrong suspects because the case was so high-profile.

Andy Hall, a Thailand-based activist for the rights of migrant workers who is helping with the defence, said a longer trial means the verdict could be postponed to 2016.