BANGKOK – Ambassador Win Maung Myanmar’s envoy to Thailand has called on Gen. Prime Minister Prayut Chan-ocha to review the Koh Tao murder case as protests against the decision intensified in Yangon and border areas yesterday.
Ambassador Maung issued a statement clarifying that he did not accept the court ruling, in which two Myanmar nationals were sentenced to death, but instead respected it.
“Even though we do not wish to meddle with the justice system of Thailand, we would like to request the prime minister for review and reconsideration of the case.”
His call came as thousands of Myanmar demonstrators rallied at the Thai-Myanmar Friendship bridge crossing between the Myanmar town of Tachileik and Chiang Rai’s Mae Sai district.
Protesters gathered at border points and outside the Thai embassy in Yangon, with demands for the Thai government to set up a joint panel with Myanmar to re-investigate the murder, and threats to escalate the protests if there is no reply.
The demonstrators called for justice for Myanmar migrant workers Zaw Lin and Win Zaw Htun, both 22, who were sentenced to death on Thursday for the rape and murder of Hannah Witheridge, 23, and the killing of David Miller, 24, on the resort island of Koh Tao last year.
The protesters believe the Myanmar migrants have been made scapegoats, which Thai police deny despite bungling DND evidence and allegations of tortured confessions.
Many Myanmar migrant workers believe police pinned the murders on the two workers and manipulated DND evidence in order to cover up their bungling of the case.
Many believe the murders were drawing too much International attention and police used Zaw Lin and Win Zaw Htun’s arrest as a way to calm international concerns and protect Thailand’s tourism trade.
Myanmar demonstrators have also called for Thai authorities to seek a royal pardon for Zaw Lin and Win Zaw Htun.
In Mae Sai, Thai Immigration and military officers closed the border to vehicles, while Myanmar police set up a barricade to stop the protesters on the Tachileik side.
The demonstrators handed over a letter outlining their demands to Thai officials, led by Mae Sai district chief Chutidet Meechan and Chiang Rai immigration chief Pol Col Sit Sirigangwalkul. The protest lasted about an hour before the demonstrators dispersed.
Representing the protesters, Somphon Thaiyai said Thai police resorted to violence to extract confessions from the two Myanmar men and secure the guilty verdict and death sentence.
He said the Thai government must form a joint panel between the two countries to re-investigate the case, with British authorities and international press being invited to observe the probe.
Myanmar NGO 88 Generation Peace and Open Society also wrote to Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha urging the case to be reviewed. Min Ko Naing sent the letter in the wake of Thursday’s verdict as protesters gathered outside Thailand’s embassy in Yangon.
Protests continued in Yangon for a third day yesterday, with poet Aung Khun Sat saying they were there “to demand justice for the two Myanmar nationals who were unfairly sentenced to death”.
“We feel that the court decision is unfair and that there was no transparency in the court hearing,” Aung Khun Sat said.
Maykhalar, another protester at the scene, said, “We are here not to attack the embassy, just to protest the failed judiciary system of Thailand.”
The protests have fueled fears among Thai shop owners along the border, who said they are worried the situation could get out of hand and lead to violence.
The Lawyers Council of Thailand said yesterday it would meet with the Myanmar ambassador and relatives of the two men on Wednesday to discuss providing legal assistance that might help in any appeal.