BANGKOK – Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha lashed out on Monday at protesters who took to the streets of Myanmar’s Yangon on the weekend after a Thai court sentenced two Myanmar migrant workers to death for murdering two British tourists.
Prayuth said critics should respect the verdict and that Thailand’s justice system would not bow to public pressure.
“They have the right to appeal, right? Laws all over the world have this. Or should Thai law not have this? Is it the case that we should release all people when pressured?,” a visibly angry Prayuth told reporters before boarding a plane to the southern province of Surat Thani.
Zaw Lin and Win Zaw Htun, both 22, were found guilty by a Thai court on Thursday of killing Hannah Witheridge, 23, and David Miller, 24, whose battered bodies were found on a beach on the southern Thai holiday island of Koh Tao in 2014.
The verdicts sparked anger in Myanmar where hundreds have held daily protests outside the Thai Embassy in Yangon, Myanmar’s biggest city, calling for the two to be released.
Protesters said the two men were used as scapegoats by authorities in an effort to close the high-profile case.
On Saturday, Myanmar’s army chief called for Thailand to review the sentencing of the two men.
The murders on Koh Tao, a laid-back divers’ paradise, sullied Thailand’s image as a tourist haven.
A police investigation into the killings was riddled with allegations of police incompetence, torture and mishandling of evidence, but a judge dismissed allegations of torture, saying there was no evidence it took place.
The court based its ruling on DNA evidence that it said linked Zaw Lin and Win Zaw Htun to the crime, including samples collected from Witheridge’s body.
Both men were also found guilty of raping Witheridge, the lawyers for the men has said they would appeal within one month.
On Saturday, the two were moved from Koh Samui prison, where they have been in custody for the past 14 months, to a high-security prison in the southern province of Nakhon Si Thammarat.
Meanwhile, Police chief Chakthip Chaijinda said he ordered subordinates to look for a supposed mastermind behind Myanmar protests against the Koh Tao ruling.
National police chief Chakthip Chaijinda on Monday said he ordered police nationwide to find the supposed shadowy group that law enforcement insists is “instigating” protests over the Koh Tao murders ruling.
While Myanmar’s Foreign Ministry said no one group was behind the widespread protests and there was no evidence to support such an accusation, Thai police continue to assert that the outrage over the death sentences handed down to two Myanmar migrant workers is being stoked by groups trying to exploit the situation for political purposes.
Protests have taken place since Thursday at the Thai embassy in Yangon, border areas opposite Chiang Rai and Kanchanaburi. On Monday, they spread to Sri Lanka, where monks from Myanmar demonstrated outside the Thai embassy in Colombo. Other small protests have been seen as far away as Japan.