Death sentence for Myanmar men prompts protest at “shameless” Thais

Zaw Lin (left) and Win Zaw Tun, who are the suspects in the murder of two British backpackers on the Thai island of Koh Tao.
Zaw Lin (left) and Win Zaw Tun, who are the suspects in the murder of two British backpackers on the Thai island of Koh Tao.PHOTOS: AFP

BANGKOK (REUTERS) – Hundreds called for the release of two Myanmar migrant workers in a protest in Yangon, Myanmar’s biggest city, on Friday (Dec 25), a day after a Thai court sentenced the two to death for the 2014 murders of two young British tourists.

The court convicted Zaw Lin and Win Zaw Htun of the brutal murder of Hannah Witheridge, 23, and David Miller, 24, on the Thai holiday island of Koh Tao, a case mired in controversy and questions about the police investigation and Thailand’s treatment of migrant workers.

Around 1,000 people gathered in front of the Thai embassy in Yangon on Friday (Dec 25), police said, calling for the two to be freed. Dozens of police stood guard outside the embassy and closed a lane in front of the building.

Some protesters held signs saying: “Shameless Thailand government” while others shouted “We want justice” in English.

The verdict followed a trial that saw prosecutors build much of their case around DNA evidence that police said linked the two migrant workers to the crime. Defence lawyers argued that police had mishandled the DNA evidence and that the two men were tortured while in detention.

The killings sullied Thailand’s reputation as a happy-go-lucky tourist destination and raised questions over its justice system and its treatment of migrant workers.

U Win Maung, Myanmar’s Ambassador to Thailand, said the verdict would not affect diplomatic ties. “Everyone who is a human, if they hear that they are getting the death sentence, they will be sad, but this is the legal procedure so we have to adhere to the legal procedure,” U Win Maung told reporters in Bangkok after meeting Pannada Diskul, Minister to the Thai Prime Minister’s Office. 

“I told Pannada to look after the foundations of relations between countries,” he said. “I very much hope that this case was looked after properly by the Thai government and let me tell you there will no problems affecting diplomatic relations because of this case.”

Some activists have argued that the defendants were scapegoats and that the case highlights Thailand’s ill treatment of migrant workers. Thailand hosts about 2.5 million migrants from its poorer neighbour.

Many work in the fishing and construction industry or as domestic helpers or cleaners in hotels and restaurants.

Some Myanmar celebrities joined the protest in Yangon.

Khin Hlaing, an actor, said the men were “victimised”. “These kids had to go to Thailand because they were poor, and there was no other way to make a living. It is such a shame that our innocent citizens are victimised by another country,”he said.

Thailand has more than 450 prisoners on death row. It has not executed anyone since 2009.