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The Big Issue: The Unsolved Murders of British Tourists

A Thai police briefing on the investigation into the murder of Hannah Witheridge and David Miller. Photograph: Wasawat Lukharang/Demotix/Corbis

A Thai police briefing on the investigation into the murder of Hannah Witheridge and David Miller. Photograph: Wasawat Lukharang/Demotix/Corbis

SURAT THANI – They told Tun Tun Hteik that if his son left Rakhine state to work in Thailand, he would be exploited. And they were right.

Win Zaw Htun and his friend Zaw Lin, both 21, are in both the Koh Samui jail and the spotlight of a gruesome crime case, although practically no one believes they really brutally murdered English tourists Hannah Witheridge and David Miller last month on nearby Koh Tao. To put it another way, senior policemen claim the migrants workers are the killers, but even their own evidence and statements keep falling down on the job of proving guilt.

Zaw Lin, left, and Win Zaw Htun take part in a re-enactment of the murder of British tourists Hannah Witheridge, 23, and David Miller, 24, on the island of Koh Tao in Surat Thani. (Photo by Tawatchai Khemgumnerd)

Zaw Lin, left, and Win Zaw Htun take part in a re-enactment of the murder of British tourists Hannah Witheridge, 23, and David Miller, 24, on the island of Koh Tao in Surat Thani. (Photo by Tawatchai Khemgumnerd)

The Myanmar pair were produced for photos last week, as police tried to convince, not a court but the public, that they had tracked down dangerous killers.

Brand new national police chief Somyot Pumpanmuang, who announced the arrests of the Myanmar men just 48 hours after he was sworn in, held a press conference that combined show business and tragicomedy.

Even before it began, it began to fail. Police tried to attract reporters to the event by saying that high-ranking diplomats from the Myanmar and British embassies would be on hand to express their support for the police investigation. Not only were they no-shows, both missions eventually made it clear they were actually quite unhappy with all turns of events.

More than 100 Myanmar citizens in Japan turned out Friday for a large protest at the Thai embassy. Foreign Minister Tanasak Patimapragorn had to express public confidence relations between Bangkok and Nay Pyi Taw would be unaffected — despite President Thein Sein’s personal “concern” during his meeting with Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha.

Pol Gen Somyot told reporters he had confessions. Within a day, after finally talking to a Myanmar embassy official and a lawyer, Win and Zaw Lin said the confessions were beaten out of them by police interrogators, and had extensive body bruises to prove it. The Samui chief prosecutor, Phaibul Achawananthakhun, poured on the pain, saying the confession in the 300-page report he got from police was deficient and insufficient even to charge the men in court.

Police botched every forensic stage of the investigation so badly that it cannot be un-botched, starting with contamination of the crime scene through to the DNA tests. That is not the opinion of Bangkok Post Sunday.

It is the opinion of the world-renowned forensic expert Porntip Rojanasunan, appointed as the country’s top forensic investigator by Gen Prayut, personally. The public believes Dr Porntip.

And “eyewitness” Maung Maung, roommate of the accused. Police claimed he saw the rape of the English woman and the subsequent murders. But Maung Maung, who has been “kept in custody” as police quaintly put it, also got a chance to see his embassy and a lawyer. And he says he saw nothing, because he wasn’t even on the beach after 1am, when he left the other two playing songs on a guitar and sipping beer.

He went to see his girlfriend, Maung Maung continued. When he returned to the room shared by the three migrants at 5am on the murder day, his two friends were sleeping, nothing was disturbed or suspicious. The killings are thought to have occurred early on Sept 15, probably between 4am and 5am.

Internet forums and the like have cruelly mocked and accused the police, in Thai and English. The case remains one of the top stories in the British press, as well as in social media. The criticism is a huge story in Myanmar, reaching up to the president. Police have few defenders.

In Thai media of all kinds, the consensus is that Win and Zaw Lin are scapegoats. It is a harsh and cynical judgement. Pol Gen Somyot said he would “absolutely” never arrest a scapegoat in the case. Prime Minister Prayut said police would “never dare arrest scapegoats” in a high-profile case. But they have, in the past.

The public’s opinion of the police actions has gone critical and won’t easily be stopped. Gen Prayut’s appeal to the public to wait out the justice process may get little traction, particularly in England and Myanmar.

Police conduct and public uncertainty have combined to create an impression — nothing to do with the truth — that the killer or killers of two young English visitors are still out there, and the Koh Tao murders remain an unsolved crime. – By Alan Dawson

 

A photo illustration of Zaw Lin and Win Zaw Htun, suspects in the murders of two British backpackers on Koh Tao, against the backdrop of the “CSI LA”

A photo illustration of Zaw Lin and Win Zaw Htun, suspects in the murders of two British backpackers on Koh Tao, against the backdrop of the “CSI LA”

Amateur super-sleuths continue investigation online

 

The Thai-language page – where “CSI” apparently stands for “critical thinking”, “sceptics” and “investigation” – soared from a few thousand fans to 267,684 as of 4pm Wednesday. On it, crime-scene-investigator wannabees upload photos, dissect conflicting media reports and while away the hours trying to poke holes in the Royal Thai Police’s case.

Admittedly, it hasn’t been that difficult.

The investigation has been riddled from Day One with false starts, “suspects” named and then cleared, and other missteps that led media outlets both inside and outside Thailand to label the probe as “bungled”. So while police claim to have solid forensic evidence and confessions, tens of thousands of people continue to claim the Myanmar suspects were scapegoats for the real killers. A petition on Change.org for an independent evaluation of the evidence had attracted more than 45,000 signatures by Wednesday afternoon.

On the CSI LA page, amateur super-sleuths have tried to prove the Myanmar men are innocent by posting annotated and copyrighted photos of the crime scene – including some poor-taste, graphic scenes of the young couple’s bodies – along with closed-circuit television captures, rumours and conflicting media reports from early days of the investigation

 

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Posted by on Oct 12 2014. Filed under Regional News. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.
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