Koh Tao murder case fallout raises questions about Thai justice

26 December 2015
Koh Tao murder case fallout raises questions about Thai justice
Myanmar migrant workers, who are accused of the killing of two British tourists, Zaw Lin (R) and Wai Phyo (L) are escorted by a Thai police officer after they were sentenced to death at the Samui Provincial Court, on Koh Samui Island, Surat Thani province, southern Thailand, 24 December 2015. Photo: Rungroj Yongrit/EPA

Many observers reacted incredulously to the death sentence verdicts given to two Myanmar migrant workers in Thailand, who were accused of murdering two British tourists in 2014 on Koh Tao island.
The two British backpackers, Hannah Witheridge, 23, and David Miller, 24, were found bludgeoned to death on an isolated beach area.
A long string of puzzling and unscientific investigation techniques by the Thai police, which were widely reported in the press,have left many observers shaking their heads during the past year, and the verdict handed down on Thursday only raised more serious questions about the flawed investigation and trial.
Andy Hall of the Migrant Workers Rights Network has provided support to the defense team and closely followed the investigation and questioned its procedures.
“The defense team respects the court decision, but has moved to appeal the verdict,” he said. “The defense team’s position is that the prosecution didn’t prove beyond a doubt the main charges.”
Thailand's best-known forensic scientist, Dr. Pornthip Rojanasunand, whose institute was not allowed any involvement in the investigation, testified that the crime scene had been poorly managed and evidence improperly collected.
Media covering the trial reported the police raised the names of a number of different persons during the investigative phase, but then quickly focused the investigation on the Myanmar migrant worker community in the area.
One year after the deaths, Dr. Pornthip tested a hoe believed to have been used in the murder and found the DNA of two people on the handle, but none matched the defendants.
The two defendants, Wai Phyo and Zaw Lin, testified they are innocent and said they were beaten and threatened into making confessions.
In the trial, the prosecution provided a one-page summary of the state’s DNA tests, some of it handwritten, with parts crossed out and corrected, along with four supporting pages, the BBC reported. Corroborating evidence establishing the scientific accuracy of the state’s DNA testing procedures was non-existent or flimsy, according to court observers.