Protests in Myanmar as Thailand issues death sentences

Thai government defends guilty verdicts for Myanmar workers in grisly murders of British tourists on a pristine beach.

Buddhist monks display placards of two Myanmar labourers sentenced to death in Thailand [Gemunu Amarasinghe/AP]
Buddhist monks display placards of two Myanmar labourers sentenced to death in Thailand [Gemunu Amarasinghe/AP]

Hundreds of people in Myanmar protested for a fifth day against death sentences handed down in Thailand to two Myanmar men – seen by many as scapegoats – convicted of killing two British backpackers.

A Thai court last week sentenced Win Zaw Htun and Zaw Lin to death for the murders of David Miller, 24, and Hannah Witheridge, 23, whose bludgeoned bodies were found on the Thai island of Koh Tao in September 2014.

Witheridge had also been raped.

 Thai courts give record jail terms for insulting monarchy

Both men say they are innocent and that police tortured them to force them to confess.

Protests have also been staged at border crossings, and last weekend Myanmar’s powerful and influential army chief called for the case to be reviewed.

The sentiment was echoed on the streets of Yangon on Tuesday.

READ MORE: Beach murders put spotlight on Thai junta

“We do not believe justice was served by the Thai court. We are asking them to review the case,” said Nay Myo Wai, a politician who supports the Buddhist nationalist group Ma Ba Tha, which led the protest.

The Thai Embassy in Myanmar said its consular section will be closed for the entire week because of the “unexpected and prolonged demonstrations” that make it hard to access the entrance.

“We intend to fight for justice for the two Myanmar men in Thailand,” said U Pamaukka, a senior monk and Ma Ba Tha member.

Protesters say the two men did not deserve the death sentence in a case that has raised many unanswered questions about police conduct.

The killings have sullied Thailand’s reputation as a tourist haven and raised questions over its justice system after the defence accused police of bungling their investigation and using the men as scapegoats – a charge Thai authorities deny.

Protests have entered a fifth day in Myanmar as the Thai government defends the guilty verdict for two Myanmar men [Nyein Chan Naing/EPA]

They were criticised for not properly securing the crime scene, conducting more than 200 random DNA tests, releasing names and pictures of suspects who turned out to be innocent, mishandling crucial DNA evidence from the victims, and allegedly torturing their prime suspects.

Citing the accusations of torture, Human Rights Watch called the verdict “profoundly disturbing”. 

READ MORE: Thailand PM: Reform or repression? 

Myanmar army chief Gen. Min Aung Hlaing urged Thailand to “review the evidence” that led to the convictions to “avoid a situation in which the innocent … were wrongly punished”, the state-run Global New Light of Myanmar newspaper reported on its front page Sunday.

That drew a reply from Thailand’s military ruler, who responded with a rhetorical question.

“They have the right to appeal, don’t they?” General Prayuth Chan-ocha was quoted as saying by Thai media on Tuesday. “Isn’t this the same legal practice all over the world?”

At a press conference Sunday police insisted their investigation was above board and hit out at the recent protests in Myanmar.

Source: News Agencies


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