KOH SAMUI – The mother of one of the men accused of killing two British tourists on a Thai island has said her son is being made a “scapegoat” by police.
Zaw Lin and Win Zaw Htun are suspects in the murders of Hannah Witheridge and David Miller, who were murdered on Koh Tao last month.
The suspects’ parents told the BBC their sons were innocent, and Mr Zaw’s mother said “the case has been “fixed”.
The Thai police investigation has been widely criticized, including by the UK.
Mr Zaw and Mr Win, who face the death penalty if found guilty, are both migrant workers from Myanmar, also known as Burma.
“The case has been fixed, my son is a scapegoat,” Mr Zaw’s mother, Phyu Shwe Nu, said.
Mr Zaw and Mr Win appeared in court for a pre-trial witness hearing on the island of Koh Samui on Tuesday, but did not testify.
At that hearing, a plea for the trial to be delayed was rejected. Lawyers argued they had not had enough time with their clients to build a strong defense.
The suspects are charged with conspiracy to murder, conspiracy to rape and robbery.
Concerns about the murder investigation include the fact the crime scene was not sealed off after the killings, and an early statement by police that no Thai person could have committed such a crime.
On Monday, the UK Foreign Office summoned the Thai charge d’affaires to express “concern” how the investigation had been handled.
Thailand’s chief of police, General Somyot Poompanmoung, has admitted mistakes were made but said everyone involved in the case had worked to the best of their ability.
BBC Myanmar correspondent Jonah Fisher said: “The Thai authorities may have thought that by charging two poor Burmese men with murder this case would quickly disappear from public view. “If that’s the case they were wrong.”
Meanwhile, Time Magazine has reported that Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha is facing fierce protests on his maiden trip overseas, with Thai exiles in Italy rallying Thursday against his May 22 coup, and an indignant crowd expected to gather in London on Friday to protest the botched investigation on the resort island of Koh Tao.
On Tuesday, ignoring a litany of procedural irregularities, Prayuth told representatives from the British and Burmese governments that their role would be “limited to observation” as both nations must “respect our processes,” reported the Bangkok Post.
Khoasod News has reported, Thai police say they have perfected the case file accusing two Burmese migrant workers of murdering British tourists in southern Thailand, after prosecutors initially rejected the case for being “incomplete.”
Although police claim DNA tests and CCTV footage implicate the two men, named Win Saw Htun and Saw Lin, many remain unconvinced due to a series of inconsistent police statements and the force’s long history of “scapegoat” arrests.
The investigation has been dubbed “a perfect job” by Thai police chief Somyot Pumpunmuang, but is in fact an “appalling mess” according to Felicity Gerry QC, a prominent British defense lawyer specializing in high-profile sexual-assault cases.
Reports have emerged that Zaw Lin and Win Zaw Htun were beaten and threatened with electrocution during interrogation. (The Thai police robustly deny the allegations.)
“It makes absolutely no sense why, in such a sensitive case, the court would rush hearings and it once again undermines the accused’s right to a fair trial,” says Hall.
Back in the U.K., the distraught families of Miller and Witheridge can only watch and pray. “As a family we hope that the right people are found and brought to justice,” said Witheridge’s family in a statement last week.
The mishandling of the case has made headlines around the globe.