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Lawyers Says Burmese Suspects Tortured into Confession of Killing British Tourists

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Zaw Lin and Win Zaw Htun
Zaw Lin and Win Zaw Htun

KOH SAMUI – Zaw Lin and Win Zaw Htun the two Burmese migrants accused of the brutal murder of two British tourists on a popular tourist island in Thailand last month have retracted their confessions, a lawyer representing them says.

Zaw Lin and Win Zaw Htun, who have been in custody since October 1, had admitted to killing David Miller and raping and murdering Hannah Witheridge on Koh Tao, according to Thai police.

However the men now say they did so under duress after being physically abused by police, Surapong Kongchantuk, the head of the Lawyers Council of Thailand, which is acting for the two suspects,reported in a press release.

Surapong said the men deny the murder and rape charges, and that an official complaint to the justice department of Samui, which has jurisdiction over the island, has been filed. They appealed for fair treatment for the two accused, he added.

Thai police could not be immediately reached for a response.

Police Commissioner Gen. Somyot Poompanmuang previously reported that DNA in semen taken from Witheridge matched samples taken from the two men. “The DNA matching result is out already and they matched with DNA found on the female victim,” he said.

Reports that the police extracted confessions through torture first surfaced earlier this month, when Burmese media reported that its two nationals had complained to a visiting lawyer attached to the Myanmar embassy.

The revelation prompted national police chief Somyot Poompanmuang to hold a press conference in Bangkok to deny allegations his officers had tortured the suspects.

The investigation into their deaths has been widely criticized and over the weekend it was announced that police from the UK would be flying out to assist with the investigation.

Nevertheless, Amnesty International has called for a full, independent investigation into reports of misconduct by police officers. Allegations of torture should be investigated independently, and not by the Thai police, Richard Bennett, Amnesty’s Asia-Pacific Program director, reported earlier this month.

He also said there were questions of due process that had arisen, specifically the absence of legal counsel prior to the confession, and difficulties with interpretation.

“There is a fairly long-standing record of ill-treatment,” in Thailand, he said. “Impunity is also a problem. If the investigation shows ill-treatment, those responsible should pay.”

The fact that the suspects are migrant workers, many of whom work in Thailand illegally, makes them more vulnerable, he added.

Criticism has been voiced about the failure to seal off the crime scene after the killings, and about an early police claim that no Thai person could have committed such an act.

The mother of one of the suspects has said they are being made scapegoats by the Thai police for the murders.

By Paul Armstrong

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