YANGON – Burmese citizens are continuing to hold protests at the Thai Embassy in Yangon to demand the release of two migrant workers sentenced to death in Thailand last week for the murder of a British tourist couple.
Hundreds of protesters have gathered in Yangon over the last several days, including outside the Thai embassy. Many held signs reading “Free our citizens” and “We need justice.”
The Thai embassy was forced to close its consular section for the entire week as a result of what it called the “unexpected and prolonged” protests, some of which have blocked the entrance.
Protests have also erupted along the Thailand-Myanmar border, prompting authorities in both countries to implement varying degrees of border restrictions as a safety precaution.
The two Myanmar men, Win Zaw Htun and Zaw Lin, were sentenced to death last week for the murder of two young British tourists on a resort island in September 2014.
The men say they were tortured into confessing, a charge denied by Thai police. Their lawyers say the DNA evidence seen as crucial to the conviction was mishandled.
The migrant workers say they plan to appeal the verdict. But the possibility of an appeal has failed to satisfy many protesters, some of whom are calling for a boycott of Thai products.
On Tuesday, the foreign ministers of Thailand and Myanmar spoke by telephone and afterwards appealed to their citizens for calm, saying they did not want diplomatic relations to be affected.
In a statement, Thai Foreign minister Don Pramudwinai said his Myanmar counterpart, Wunna Maung Lwin, expressed an understanding that the verdict was not final and could be overturned.
The double-killings rattled Thailand’s normally thriving tourism industry, which was already struggling following a military coup. The case also highlighted longstanding concerns over the treatment of migrant workers in Thailand, who are often falsely blamed for such crimes.
Myanmar’s army chief Gen. Min Aung Hlaing has called for the case to be reviewed, to which Thailand’s Prime Minister Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha said that the men had the standard right to appeal, according to local media.
Thai police spokesperson Gen Dejnarong Suthichanbancha has consistently defended the investigation saying it “was done transparently and in compliance with international standards”.