March 02, 2017

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Thailand upholds death sentence for Myanmar men, appeal likely

Zaw Lin (L) and Win Zaw Htun.

A Thai appeals court upheld the death sentence for two Myanmar migrant workers convicted of the murder of two British backpackers on a vacation island in 2014, their lawyer said yesterday.
The bodies of backpackers Hannah Witheridge and David Miller were found on a beach on Koh Tao island in September 2014. Police said Witheridge, 23, had been raped and bludgeoned to death and Miller, 24, had suffered blows to his head.
Thailand sentenced Myanmar migrant workers Zaw Lin and Win Zaw Htun to death after convicting them of the crime on 24 December 2015.
The decision to uphold the death sentence for the two Myanmar men was handed down on 23 February, but the defence lawyer was not informed until yesterday, prompting questions of legal adherence and calls for an appeal.
“The means in which the verdict was read in this case without informing defence lawyers raises questions regarding adequate adherence to the rule of law. The defence legal team will immediately liaise with Zaw Lin and Wai Phyo to prepare the defendant’s appeal to the Supreme Court on this ruling. It is a deeply disappointing ruling for the defence team given our confidence in the strength of our arguments regarding the inadequacy of forensics in this case,” said Andy Hall, a British rights activist and the international affairs adviser to the defense team.
A team of lawyers filed an appeal in May last year against the verdict. The 198-page appeal said that DNA evidence used in the case was inadmissible and had not been collected, tested, analysed or reported in accordance with internationally accepted standards.
“The appeals court upheld the death sentence for the two defendants,” Nakhon Chompuchat, the defence team’s head lawyer, told Reuters.
It could not be determined whether Zaw Lin and Win Zaw Htun were informed of the latest decision.
“We have not met Zaw Lin and Win Zaw Htun yet, we don’t even know if they understand the decision and if it was translated,” Andy Hall said.
The defence has 30 days to make another appeal to the supreme court.
The 2015 verdict followed an investigation and trial that were mired in controversy, including allegations of police incompetence, mishandling of evidence and torture of the suspects.
Thai police drew widespread domestic and international criticism for their handling of the case and the evidence. Protests erupted in Yangon after the verdict, with many people believing the two workers were scapegoats.  (Reuters contributed to this report)

Mark Angeles

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