ON Thursday 24th December, Zaw Lin and Win Zaw Htun were found guilty of murdering Hannah Witheridge and David Miller on the island of Koh Samui and were each handed the death penalty.
Although there were no direct witnesses, the court concluded that physical evidence found at the crime scene and circumstantial evidence before and after the incident was enough to prove their guilt. The Koh Samui court also confirmed that DNA tests were accurate and up to international standards.
After the verdict was announced the family of Michael Miller gave a statement to the press, “It is our opinion that the evidence against Wai Phyo and Zaw Lin is overwhelming,” and they believed the verdict was “correct”.
The family of Hannah Witheridge, who did not attend Thursday’s proceedings, also released a statement, but one which avoided endorsing the investigation or the verdict, “We found listening to proceedings very challenging and we have had to endure a lot of painful and confusing information. We now need time, as a family, to digest the outcome of the trial and figure out the most appropriate way to tell our story.”
Many observes had anticipated the proceeding at the Koh Samui Courthouse would lead to the acquittal of the two Burmese migrants workers who insist they are innocent, and there has been strong international reaction to the guilty verdict and death sentence.
In the UK news agencies questioned the police investigation and the court’s verdict. An article by the BBC highlighted the many inconsistencies of the flawed and muddled investigation on Koh Tao and questioned the strategy of the defense lawyers. The Telegraph published a detailed account of how this high profile case had put Thailand’s justice system on trial. While The Guardian focused on the role of UK authorities during the investigation.
The New York Times also reported the well-publicized problems with the police investigation and quoted Sam Zarifi, the director of Asia-Pacific operations at the International Commission of Jurists, who believed the verdict could be overruled on appeal. “It’s hard to see how it would hold up based on a stringent reading of the law, as is required for capital punishment.”
“It’s hard to see how it would hold up based on a stringent reading of the law, as is required for capital punishment.”
Following the guilty verdict, Amnesty International issued a press release calling on the authorities in Thailand to “ensure an independent, transparent and thorough examination of allegations of torture by police made by two men who today were found guilty of murder.”
While human rights groups and international news agencies have questioned the guilty verdict, the reaction in Burma was one of anger which led over 1,000 Yangon residents to protest outside Royal Thai Embassy. Demonstrators on the streets held signs saying “Shameless Thailand government” and “Free Our Innocent Citizens”. Larger protests are predicted over the coming days.
In response, the Thai Embassy in Burma issued a statement urging Thai citizens to be cautious,“social media users are mobilising supporters for a protest in front of the embassy. For your safety, we urge all to be extremely vigilant and to avoid identifying yourselves as Thai nationals if not necessary.”
The Burma government also spoke out about the guilty verdict and confirmed they would support any appeal. The pro bono legal team representing Zaw Lin and Win Zaw Htun are now in the process of preparing an appeal, which needs to be submitted within 30 days. Once submitted it could take as long as 12 months before Thailand’s Appeals Court confirms if it will accept the appeal. For now Zaw Lin and Win Zaw Htun are preparing to be transferred to the higher security prison on Nakkon Si Thammarat where they will be incarcerated while their legal team begin the lengthy appeal process.