SURAT THANI — The two Burmese men accused of murdering a pair of British tourists in southern Thailand last month say they are innocent and were forced to confess under duress, their lawyer said today.
Rassada Manurassada, a human rights lawyer, visited the suspects in prison today to question them about their alleged role in the brutal murder of David Miller, 24, and rape and murder of Hannah Witheridge, 23, on the island of Koh Tao on 15 September.
According to Rassada, after five hours of questioning the two suspects said they were innocent.
"The suspects said they did not do the crime they were accused of," Rassada told Khaosod upon leaving the prison. "This is very important."
Thai police have insisted that the two suspects, named Win Saw Htun and Saw Lin, voluntarily confessed to killing the two tourists and raping Witheridge. They also say DNA traces found on Witheridge's body implicate the pair.
However, according to Rassada, the 21-year-old migrant workers only confessed because they were abused during the police interrogation, for which no lawyer was present.
"The suspects said they were beaten during the police interrogation. The interpreter kicked them in the chest," Rassada said, adding that the interpreter was of different ethnicity than the suspects and spoke a different dialect, leading to some confusion during the translation.
The "interpreter" initially used by police turned out to be a local roti vendor of Rohingya descent, not a professional.
Apart from allegedly beating the two suspects, the second interpreter also extorted money from Win, Rassada said.
"The interpreter told Win that his personal money could be confiscated, so he asked Win to give him the money – a total of 4,300 baht -and promised to send it to the suspect's parents in Myanmar," Rassada said. "We will investigate whether that money has really been transferred to Win's relatives."
The news comes a day after Thailand’s human rights commission vowed to launch an inquiry into mounting allegations that the suspects were tortured in police custody. For weeks, international human rights groups have raised concerns about the treatment of the two migrant workers, who many suspect are scapegoats. Thai police have a long history of extracting confessions that are later recanted in court.
Doubts about Thailand’s handling of the case also recently prompted the United Kingdom to arrange for its own delegation of police to travel to Thailand and oversee the investigation.
Following today’s revelations, the legal team representing the suspects will file a letter seeking fairness from the Office of Attorney-General, Rassada said.
He explained that the letter, signed by Win and Saw, raises three points with the public prosecutor: first, how the suspects were forced into making a false confession; second, the abuse they were subject to while in police custody; and third, doubts about the interpreter's ability to correctly translate during the police interrogation.
"If the justice system gives the suspects an opportunity to prove their innocence and present evidence about where they were and what they were doing at the time, the truth will be revealed," Rassada said.
The public prosecutor has yet to formally take up the case, citing an "incomplete" file sent by police, who have been under an immense amount of pressure to solve the murder case as swiftly as possible.