Koh Tao murder trial
2 July 2015
Burmese migrant workers Zaw Lin and Wai Phyo, both 22, go on
trial next week accused of killing Hannah Witheridge and David Miller, found
dead in late September 2014 on a beach on the island of Koh Tao, Thailand.
The two men were arrested in October 2014 and have been held
Their case has revealed much about the exploitation and
helplessness of migrants across Thailand.
This combined with widespread criticism of the murder
investigation and allegations of powerful actors influencing developments,
continues to produce deep distrust or suspicion that the real people
responsible for the killings have yet to be apprehended.
Two weeks into the murder investigation, police had yet to charge anyone
with the killings. Amid conflicting statements regarding evidence and
suspects, the investigation appeared increasingly disorganised.
Under pressure to make an arrest, officials frequently suggested the murders
were committed by migrant workers.
In early October, authorities finally detained Zaw Lin and
Wai Phyo as suspects for the murders. Both were working on Koh Tao to save
money to support their families in impoverished Arakan [Rakhine] State in
Burma. The two allegedly confessed to the murders during questioning;
officials claimed the men’s guilt was also established by ‘solid’ forensic
evidence linking them to the crime scene and Hannah’s body.
The forensic evidence will only be introduced at trial and
has not been subject to independent verification. Zaw and Wai claim that
they had never met the two deceased. and if they were responsible for the
murder why would they have stayed working on the island rather than making a
hasty exit to Myanmar.
Several days after being arrested, Zaw Lin and Wai Phyo told
human rights monitors at Koh Samui prison that they were tortured following
detention, prior to being handed over to investigation
officials. A week later, both pleaded innocent to rights lawyers organised
for them. Both alleged their heads were covered with bags to imitate
suffocation while they were threatened with electrocution, burning and
execution to elicit confessions. Misconduct of translators assisting
investigators was also alleged.
Genuine justice in this case can be achieved through ensuring
a fair and transparent trial however this is not looking likely. If the
defense does not have time and resources to prepare their case, or if their
work is unfairly obstructed, there is a serious risk two innocent young men
could be convicted and possibly executed for the murders while the real
perpetrators live freely.
If they are found guilty, few people will accept it, and
Thailand's image will suffer. If they are found innocent, the credibility of
the police investigation will be in tatters, and Thailand's image will
suffer. In either case it is likely that the real murderer(s) will still be
at large, and unpunished
The are suggestions from the island that 112m THB was paid to
make all this go away by the island mafia family of the real murderers. Not
unusual in the Land of Smiles.
‘Torture made us admit killing British pair’
28 June 2015 The Sunday Times
The most striking thing about Zaw Lin and Wai Phyo, both 22,
is how small they are. Their black hair is closely cropped and skinny arms
and legs protrude from drab prison outfits. In their bare feet they stand
about and 5ft 3in and 4ft 11in respectively.
The men were detained after a bungled two-week manhunt for the people who
raped and murdered British tourist Hannah Witheridge, 23, and killed fellow
British traveller David Miller, 24, on the Thai diving mecca Koh Tao (Turtle
Island), in the early hours of September 15 last year.
Police suspicions moved in quick succession from locals to Burmese migrants,
then to British friends of the deceased, to speedboat drivers, to the son of
the island’s richest man and back, finally, to Burmese migrants.
The two former hotel workers smiled as they clutched telephones behind the
prison glass on the island of Koh Samui, eager to talk. Their trial for
murder opens on July 8.
“We did not commit this crime,” Zaw Lin insisted, repeating their claims of
innocence. They have recanted on confessions they claim were obtained after
they were beaten and scalded.
“We did not even see the people who were killed. We had the night off work
with our friend so we were near the beach, playing guitar,” Zaw Lin said.
“We had three drinks and got quite drunk because we don’t usually take
alcohol, so we went to bed.”
For now their home is a crowded prison with 700 inmates. Zaw Lin said: “We
are OK, we work cleaning bathrooms and we can exercise. Our cell only has 27
people so we can lie down and sleep, most are more crowded — one has 44
Both victims had head wounds inflicted by a heavy object police say was one
of the cumbersome beach hoes used to rake fire pits in the sand.
Miller, a fit, strong man who appears to have attempted to save Witheridge
from her attackers, drowned after being hit over the head, police said.
“Only an extremely violent and sadistic person could have done this. The
suspects show no sign of these tendencies,” Nakhon Chompoochart, the lead
defence lawyer said.
Zaw Lin admits he has been having trouble sleeping, the only sign that the
pair grasp the seriousness of their situation. “We can’t wait to go home,”
he said. “We miss our families.”
Police say they have forensic evidence linking the accused to the murders.
But there remain more questions than answers to the case.
On the night of the killings, Witheridge and Miller were in a crowd at the
AC bar 100 yards up the beach from where the young Burmese were relaxing.
The defence theory is that the hoe was used to hide gunshot wounds and the
bodies were arranged to disguise what had actually occurred. A photo taken
of Witheridge as she lay dead on the beach that has been obtained by The
Sunday Times appears to show shrapnel wounds to her face.
Few, if any, people who live on the island will speak out as the case has
been overshadowed by reports in the Thai media of interference by
“influential figures”, a euphemism for organised crime. No British witnesses
have come forward.
Since the murders of the young Britons there have been more suspicious
deaths on Koh Tao.
In January a Frenchman died in what looked like a staged suicide — his hands
were tied behind his back — and another European man, said to have been a
potential witness to events on the night of the double murder, was killed in
a diving accident.
Another Burmese man named Shy who was working at the AC bar on the night of
the murders has disappeared, people on the defence team said.
“Everything is dependent on the forensics result, since there
are no other witnesses to the crime so we will have to use the environment,”
Nakhon said. His biggest concern is that he thinks “there will definitely be
some political interference”.
The defence has struggled for adequate funding, raising fears of a
potentially flawed trial, according to British human rights activist Andy
Hall, whose Migrant Worker Rights Network is one of three non-government
organisations helping the defendants. “It’s been very stressful, we haven’t
had much money at all,” Hall said.
He said the British embassy and the UK government had been “very unco-operative,
The Foreign and Commonwealth Office said: “We want to see whoever committed
these murders brought to justice through a fair and transparent process.”
Back on Koh Tao, despite the murders and subsequent tragedy that now seems a
regular occurrence on the island, life goes on pretty much as usual. When
The Sunday Times visited the island in early June, hotels and bars were busy
despite it being the low season.
“There was a dip for a month or two after the murders,” one hotelier said,
and that is pretty much all anyone on the island wants to say.
The only reminder of the events of last September is a desultory memorial at
the rocks near the crime scene and the AC bar, which has been shuttered and
fallen into disrepair.
Alexis Tsipras must be stopped: the
underlying message of Europe's leaders
29 June 2015 - The Guardian
One day before Greece’s bailout ends and the
country’s financial lifeline melts away, Europe’s big guns have lined up one
after another to tell the Greeks unequivocally that voting no in Sunday’s
referendum means saying goodbye to the euro.
There was no mistaking the gravity of the situation now facing both Greece
and Europe on Monday. Leaders were by turns ashen-faced, resigned, desperate
and pleading with Athens to think again and pull back from the abyss.
There were also bitter attacks on Alexis Tsipras, the young Greek prime
minister whose brinkmanship has gone further than anyone believed possible
and left the eurozone’s leaders reeling.
One measure of the seriousness of the situation could be gleaned from the
leaders’ schedules. In Berlin, Brussels, Paris and London, a chancellor, two
presidents and a prime minister convened various meetings of cabinet, party
leaders and top officials devoted solely to Greece.
The French president, François Hollande, was to the fore. “It’s the Greek
people’s right to say what they want their future to be,” he said. “It’s
about whether the Greeks want to stay in the eurozone or take the risk of
Athens insists that this is not what is at stake in the highly complicated
question the Greek government has drafted for the referendum, but Berlin,
Paris and Brussels made plain that the 5 July vote will mean either staying
in the euro on their tough terms or returning to the drachma.
In what was arguably the biggest speech of his career, the president of the
European commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, appeared before a packed press
hall in Brussels against a giant backdrop of the Greek and EU flags.
He was impassioned, bitter and disingenuous in appealing to the Greek people
to vote yes to the euro and his bailout terms, arguing that he and the
creditors – rather than the Syriza government – had the best interests of
Greeks at heart.
Tsipras had lied to his people, deceived and betrayed Europe’s negotiators
and distorted the bailout terms that were shredded when the negotiations
collapsed and the referendum was called, he said.
“I feel betrayed. The Greek people are very close to my heart. I know their
hardship … they have to know the truth,” he said.
“I’d like to ask the Greek people to vote yes … no would mean that Greece is
saying no to Europe.”
In a country where an estimated 11,000 people have killed themselves during
the hardship wrought by austerity, Juncker offered unfortunate advice. “I
say to the Greeks, don’t commit suicide because you’re afraid of dying,” he
Juncker’s extraordinary performance sounded and looked as if he were already
mourning the passing of a Europe to which he has dedicated his long
political career. His 45-minute speech was both proprietorial and poignant
about his vision, which seems to be giving way to a rawer and rowdier place.
That was clear from the trenchant remarks of Sigmar Gabriel, Germany’s
vice-chancellor and the head of the country’s Social Democratic party. He
coupled the Greek situation with last week’s foul tempers over immigration
and said that Europe faces its worst crisis since the EU’s founding treaty
was signed in Rome in 1957.
Gabriel was the first leading European politician to voice what many think
and say privately about Tsipras – that the Greek leader represents a threat
to the European order, that his radicalism is directed at the politics of
mainstream Europe and that he wants to force everyone else to rewrite the
rules underpinning the single currency.
The unspoken message was that Tsipras is a dangerous man on a mission who
has to be stopped.
Standing alongside his boss, Angela Merkel, as if to send a joint
nonpartisan national signal from Germany, Gabriel said that if the Greek
people vote no on Sunday, they would be voting “against remaining in the
Unlike Juncker and Hollande, who pleaded with the Greek people to reject
Tsipras’s urging of a no vote, the German leaders sounded calmly resigned to
For Merkel, it was clear that the single currency’s rulebook was much more
important than Greece. In this colossal battle of wills, Tsipras could not
be allowed to prevail.
This is a good read to help understand the
Why Greece should vote No and leave the Euro
29 June 2015
Clueless. That is the only way to describe some of the public announcements
from Thailand's military government.
In their latest rant deputy government spokesman Maj-General Sansern
Kaewkamnerd said that the United States has a duty to explain why it put
Thailand alongside countries experiencing the most significant human rights
setbacks in its latest human rights report.
Maybe he could try reading it - and to help out here is a link to the State
Country Reports on Human Rights Practices for 2014 - Thailand.
Sansern said that "the assessment in its human rights report that Thailand
has seriously curbed the freedom of people is its own point of view towards
the situation in many countries. However the US should say what the basis is
and the sources of the facts that led to the assumption."
Sansern insisted that Thailand placed the most importance on the real
situation in the country and the restoration of peace and happiness when the
National Council for Peace and Order ended the political conflict.
Now peace has returned to the Kingdom and people can travel to any place in
the country without fear, he said. Of course they cannot say what they
really think for fear of arrest and detention for attitude adjustment or for
the greater fear of a military trial under S112.
In the report's preface, US Secretary of State John Kerry placed Thailand
alongside China, Egypt, Iran, Russia and Saudi Arabia as countries that are
stifling the development of civil society.
"The military overthrew a democratically elected government, repealed the
constitution, and severely limited civil liberties," Kerry said. "Subsequent
efforts by the military government to rewrite the country's constitution and
recast its political intuitions raised concerns about lack of inclusivity in
It is hard to understand what part of that Sansern does not understand.
Citizens no longer have the ability to change the government through the
right to vote in free and fair elections. Other human rights problems
included arbitrary arrests and detention; poor, overcrowded, and unsanitary
prison and detention facilities; insufficient protection for vulnerable
populations, including refugees; violence and discrimination against women;
sex tourism; sexual exploitation of children; trafficking in persons;
discrimination against persons with disabilities, minorities, hill tribe
members, and foreign migrant workers; child labor; and some limitations on
The report also noted that the junta had stifled academic freedom, ordered
scholars not to speak to the press and cancelled academic seminars.
The junta had also restricted press content deemed critical, leading to
The US also mentioned what it described as abuses by government security
forces and local defence volunteers in the deep South.
It is not a hard list to understand.
Now of course plenty of Thais and other apologists will call foul and accuse
the US of hypocrisy. But it is a spurious argument to suggest the the sins
of one country justify the sins of another. The USA has been producing this
annual report for many years and it is a useful measure of a nation's
progress or regress in respect of Human Rights.
It is a huge misunderstanding of US culture to assume that Americans support
their own civil rights abuses. What they do have is the right to debate and
protest them. Whether you like it or not the US is one of the best
information gathering machines we have to monitor such things as human
rights. The US is a nation of contrasts, conflicts and argument. Meanwhile
Thailand endures a strangled media and a non-elected government with
The 2014 report card for Thailand shows that slavery still exists and
refugees are sold into it; camps are burned to "prevent them from being used
again", or more likely to remove the evidence. Voting booths were blocked;
people arrested and detained for speaking their mind, and an elected
government was removed by a military coups. The US is far from perfect, but
that does not invalidate the state department report.