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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 without bail.

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 people.”

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, very difficult”.

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 leaving.”

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 said.

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 euro”.

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 the rupture.

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 issues : 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 Department's annual 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 the process."

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 worker rights.

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 widespread self-censorship.

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 absolute power.

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.