Thai PM defends verdict against Myanmar workers found guilty over tourist murders

Thailand's PM Prayuth Chan-o-cha addressing the nation on Dec 23, 2015.
Thailand's PM Prayuth Chan-o-cha addressing the nation on Dec 23, 2015.PHOTO: REUTERS

BANGKOK (REUTERS) - Thailand's Prime Minister lashed out on Monday (Dec 28) at protesters who took to the streets of Yangon over the weekend after a Thai court sentenced two Myanmar migrant workers to death for murdering two British tourists.

Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha said critics should respect the verdict and that Thailand's justice system would not bow to public pressure.

"They have the right to appeal, right? Laws all over the world have this. Or should Thai law not have this? Is it the case that we should release all people when pressured?," a visibly angry Prayuth told reporters before boarding a plane to the southern province of Surat Thani.

Zaw Lin and Win Zaw Htun, both 22, were found guilty by a Thai court on Thursday (Dec 24) of killing Ms Hannah Witheridge, 23, and Mr David Miller, 24, whose battered bodies were found on a beach on the southern Thai holiday island of Koh Tao in 2014.

The verdicts sparked anger in Myanmar where hundreds have held daily protests outside the Thai Embassy in Yangon, Myanmar's biggest city, calling for the two to be released.

Protesters said the two men were used as scapegoats by the authorities in an effort to close the high-profile case.

On Saturday (Dec 26), Myanmar's army chief called for Thailand to review the sentencing of the two men.

The murders on Koh Tao, a laid-back divers' paradise, sullied Thailand's image as a tourist haven.

A police investigation into the killings was riddled with allegations of police incompetence, torture and mishandling of evidence, but a judge dismissed allegations of torture, saying there was no evidence it took place.

The court based its ruling on DNA evidence that it said linked Zaw Lin and Win Zaw Htun to the crime, including samples collected from Ms Witheridge's body.

Both men were also found guilty of raping Ms Witheridge.

On Saturday (Dec 26), the two were moved from Koh Samui prison, where they have been in custody for the past 14 months, to a high-security prison in the southern province of Nakhon Si Thammarat.

A lawyer for the men has said they would appeal within one month.