KOH SAMUI – A plea to postpone the start of the pre-trial hearings by Defense lawyers of two Burmese men, charged with the murder of two UK tourists in Thailand has been rejected.
Defense lawyers said they needed a delay to allow more time to prepare their case.
British human rights activist Andy Hall, who is monitoring the case, said: “Lawyers only had contact with the suspects a few days ago and they need time to talk and understand each other before the trial.
“This case is really being hurried,” said Mr. Hall, who helped assemble the team of lawyers. “It’s hurting the rights of the accused.”
Another activist, who asked not to be named, said: “This is a scandal. It goes against all sense of justice for the judge to take evidence at such an early stage.
“The defense had not time to prepare at all. It’s disgraceful.”
The case has now been adjourned for several days while the judge considers the evidence he heard.
The police investigation into the murders has been widely criticized. On Monday the UK Foreign Office summoned the Thai charge d’affaires to express concern.
Prayuth Chan-ocha attempted to downplay growing international concern and insisted the UK no longer had “any more doubts” about the inquiry.
According to the Bangkok Post, Mr Chan-ocha said: “Anyone can come to Thailand, but don’t forget that what is our business should remain ours. I consider the Koh Tao case to be reliable.”
Sam Zarifi, the director of Asia-Pacific operations at the International Commission of Jurists, a human rights group, says the murder case underlines the “systemic weaknesses” of the Thai criminal justice system.
The criticisms of the case — that a lawyer was not present during the initial questioning of one of the suspects; that the food vendor was inadequate as an interpreter; and that the suspects say they were physically abused — are recurring problems, Mr. Zarifi said.
“Regardless whether these guys are responsible for the killing, it’s going to be hard to prove in a court of law,” Mr. Zarifi said. “This is not an Agatha Christie case — it’s a case that modern policing should be able to handle,” he said. “It’s become a hard case because it’s been mishandled.”
The case has also become a public relations problem for Thailand in Britain, where the news media has covered the killings extensively, and in Myanmar, where Facebook pages dedicated to the case are full of vitriol for the Thai authorities. There are more than three million workers from Myanmar in Thailand, most of them performing menial tasks, and there is a rising perception that they are exploited.
“For many years, the Thais have been making the Myanmar people into scapegoats,” said a Facebook post by U Kan Hla. “And this time, the world knows about it.”
The Myanmar government also raised questions about the case last week during a visit by Thai government officials to Myanmar, which is also known as Burma.
The commander in chief of the Myanmar Army, Gen. Min Aung Hlaing, told the visiting Thai delegation that it would be preferable that “many guilty persons should escape unpunished, than one innocent person should suffer,” according to Myanmar’s state media.
Meanwhile, The parents of the two Myanmar suspects in the murders of two British tourists on the Thai island of Koh Tao are being helped by the Myanmar government to obtain passports and visas for a trip to Thailand to visit their sons.
The parents of the two suspects are currently in Yangon and the Myanmar Embassy in Thailand will handle security matters for them, said U Htoo Chit, chairman of the Foundation for Education and Development.
U Tun Tun Htike and Daw May Thein, parents of suspect Ko Win Zaw Htun, 21, and Daw Phyu Shwe Nu, the mother and U Thein Shwe Aung, the uncle of suspect Ko Zaw Lin Oo, 21, will visit Thailand for a month with the help of the Myanmar embassy, the Foundation for Education and Development (FED) and the Myanmar Association Thailand.