KOH SAMUI – Thai police have rejected claims of a cover-up involving the murders of two British backpackers, amid claims that two men arrested for the killings were “tortured” into confessing and calls for “a fair and transparent” investigation from Britain.
Two Burmese men were formally arrested for the crime last Friday and have confessed, according to police.
However, the police investigation has faced severe criticism including claims that the two accused, named by Burmese media as Zaw Lin and Win Zaw Htun, were coerced into making their confessions and were interrogated without the presence of lawyers.
“So far, the police investigation has been disturbingly unprofessional,” Thailand’s Khaosod Newspaper said in an editorial. “There are also legitimate concerns that the alleged confessions of the two Burmese suspects were obtained under duress.”
Aung Myo Thant, a lawyer hired to represent the two men by Burmese diplomats in Thailand, said he feared they were being framed.
“From what we have learned, there are inconsistencies with both the forensic report and evidence provided in the case,” he told the Democratic Voice of Burma website.
Lawyers and diplomats who met with the men at a detention center on the island of Koh Samui on Monday reportedly said the men had confessed the crimes but also said they had been “tortured”.
“The defendants kept repeating that they were very drunk that night. Based on what we have been told, it seems to us like this case is a set-up and not based on hard facts,” Aung Myo Thant said.
Police say tests on two DNA samples taken from the body of Ms Witheridge prove the two men, who are both 21, killed the two Britons.
However the Khaosod Newspaper, claims it was unusual that the results of DNA tests supposedly proving the suspects’ guilt had been announced just 24 hours after their arrests when such tests typically took at least 48 hours to process.
“We believe it is necessary for an independent body to investigate the forensic evidence that has allegedly implicated the two men,” the newspaper argued. That investigation should focus on whether DNA evidence had been “tampered with” and should be carried out by a “foreign authority”.
“If these conditions are not met, we fear that Thai police will add to their legacy of falsely accusing innocent people,” the newspaper added.
A spokesperson for the Foreign Office said: “We are aware of concerns expressed in relation to the latest developments and expect the Thai authorities to address these thoroughly and transparently”.
“The investigation and judicial process remains a matter for the Thai authorities, but we expect it to be conducted in a fair and transparent way. We remain in contact with them and have asked to be kept closely informed.”
On Monday, Mark Kent, the British ambassador in Bangkok, stopped short of offering full support to the Thai police investigation.
“Much speculation about UK views on Koh Tao investigation. UK has good relationship w Thai Police, but I have not commented on investigation,” he wrote.
Thai police had hoped last week’s arrests would silence criticism of their work but the opposite appears to have occurred.
More than 229,000 people have joined a Facebook discussion group that continues to question many aspects of the Koh Tao murder inquiry and more than 39,000 people have signed an online petition calling on the British government to launch an investigation of its own.
One Koh Tao resident, who knows one of the accused men, said islanders were bewildered by police claims the Burmese men were behind the crimes.
“There is not an aggressive or bad bone in his body,” the resident, who declined to be named, said of one of the alleged murderers.
Prachum Ruangthong, the police chief responsible for Koh Tao, dismissed claims the confessions had been obtained through torture, the Bangkok Post reported.
“It is impossible to create scapegoats in 2014, since it is easier for police to be grilled by the public,” he was quoted as saying.
Surapong Kongchantuk, a Thai human rights activist, said he had received an official complaint about the police’s handling of the arrests on Sunday.
A bungled investigation “might hurt ties between the United Kingdom and Thailand,” the lawyer was quoted as saying by the Bangkok Post. – By Tom Phillips