Thai court upholds death penalty for Myanmar pair over murder of British backpackers

Myanmar migrant workers Zaw Lin (left) and Win Zaw Htun arrive at the Nonthaburi provincial court in Thailand, on Aug 29, 2019.
Myanmar migrant workers Zaw Lin (left) and Win Zaw Htun arrive at the Nonthaburi provincial court in Thailand, on Aug 29, 2019.PHOTO: REUTERS

NONTHABURI, THAILAND (AFP) - A Thai court on Thursday (Aug 29) upheld the death penalty of two Myanmar migrant workers sentenced to death for the murder of two British backpackers on a Thai holiday island.

Zaw Lin and Win Zaw Tun were found guilty of the rape and murder of Ms Hannah Witheridge, 23, and of killing Mr David Miller, 24.

The pair's battered bodies were found on a beach on the southern diving resort of Koh Tao in September 2014.

Prosecutors insisted the evidence against the men from Myanmar's impoverished Rakhine state was clear, and a lower court upheld their conviction in 2017.

But during the proceedings, the defence said the authorities mishandled the investigation and DNA evidence, not allowing independent analysis of samples, and using confessions the pair said were coerced.

Police were accused of buckling to pressure to solve a crime that made global headlines and threatened to damage a tourism sector that accounts for a fifth of Thailand's economy.

Zaw Lin and Win Zaw Tun arrived at the court on Thursday morning on the outskirts of Bangkok in tan prison jumpsuits.

Mr Andy Hall, an international adviser to the defence, said the evidence against them was "unreliable".

"The death penalty sentence against the two accused and their conviction should be reversed and quashed."

Thailand's legal system is notoriously opaque, with some cases flying through the courts while others take years.

The 2017 appeal decision was presented to the two men with no translator and without lawyers present, according to the defence.

 

If the Supreme Court's verdict on Thursday upholds the ruling, their last hope is the possibility of a royal pardon.

Last year, Thailand carried out its first execution since 2009, a sudden resumption of the death penalty that was condemned by rights groups who hoped the country was moving towards abolishing the practice.

The verdicts on the 2014 double killing divided relatives.

Mr Miller's parents backed the court's conviction, but Ms Witheridge's family was more cautious in drawing conclusions, with her sister Laura later calling the investigation "bungled".