Thai court upholds death sentence for Myanmar men

By AFP

NONTHABURI — Two Myanmar migrant workers sentenced to death for the brutal murder of a pair of British backpackers in Thailand lost their final appeal Thursday in a case tainted by claims of irregularities.

Ko Zaw Lin and Ko Win Zaw Tun were found guilty of the rape and murder of Ms Hannah Witheridge, 23, and of killing Mr David Miller, 24, after their battered bodies were found on a beach on the southern resort island of Koh Tao in September 2014.

Prosecutors insisted the evidence against the men from Myanmar’s impoverished Rakhine State was clear, and announcing the verdict of a final appeal Thursday, Thailand’s top court agreed.

“The Supreme Court upholds the verdict from the first court and the appeal court,” a judge told the stonefaced defendants, who were wearing khaki prison garb.

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Their last hope now is for a royal pardon or commutation.

During the proceedings, the defence said the evidence was not reliable as authorities mishandled DNA, did not allow independent analysis of samples and used confessions the pair said were forced. 

Police were also accused of buckling under pressure to solve a crime that made global headlines and threatened a tourism sector that accounts for a fifth of Thailand’s economy.

The original verdicts on the 2014 double killing divided relatives of the victims.

Miller’s parents backed the court’s conviction, but the family of Witheridge were more cautious, and a sister called the investigation “bungled”.

Thursday’s ruling said the confessions held up, as did forensic tests.

Chief defence lawyer Mr Nakhon Chompuchat said after the decision was handed down that his clients were “shocked”.

“They absolutely still deny any wrongdoing,” he said.

“They are very worried about when they will be executed. It was very difficult to tell them, even though they were prepared.”

The case was also watched closely in Myanmar, where many felt they had been given an unfair trial.

Protests were triggered outside the Thai embassy in Myanmar’s commercial capital Yangon after the original convictions.

Thailand’s legal system is notoriously opaque, with some cases flying through the courts and others taking years.

The result of the 2017 appeal was presented to the Myanmar men with no translator and without lawyers present, according to their defence.

Last year Thailand carried out its first execution since 2009, prompting criticism by rights groups who had hoped the country was moving towards abolishing the practice.

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