Koh Tao Murders: Rights Group Demands Fresh Investigation Into Torture Claims

Zaw Lin and Wai Phyo at Samui courthouse Dec. 24.

BANGKOK — Amnesty International today issued a statement calling for an independent inquiry to determine whether the two Myanmar men, recently convicted of murder, were tortured into making a false confession as the defendants allege.

The international watchdog group said it feared that the two defendants, Zaw Lin and Wai Phyo, might have been among the victims of ill treatment by the Thai police force, which is notorious for a long history of using force to extract false confessions.

The two men initially confessed that they were responsible for the Sept. 15, 2014, killings of British backpackers David Miller and Hannah Witheridge in southern Thailand, but the pair later retracted the confession, saying that they were beaten and coerced by local police to admit guilt against their will. The two suspects were also accused of raping Witheridge.


On Thursday the court found Zaw Lin and Wai Phyo guilty of the murders and sentenced them to death. The court said DNA traces at the crime scene implicated the two men, and ruled that their claim of torture could not be proved.

“Thai authorities must ensure that any alleged confession or other statement obtained as a result of torture is not admitted as evidence in court in any retrial of the case, unless against those accused of torture to prove that the statement has been taken,” Champa Patel, Amnesty International Director for Southeast Asia and the Pacific, said in a statement to the press today.

She added, “This requires an independent investigation, which the police should certainly not be in charge of.”

The Thai police force has occasionally detained and interrogated suspects in criminal cases without providing the suspects with legal counsel. Cases of police beating suspects in custody are also well documented by the media.

For instance, in July a video of an unidentified police officer slapping child rape suspect Wanchai Saengkhao went viral on the social media. There is no information whether the officer was ever punished, while many comments on social media praised the cop for “teaching a lesson” to Wanchai.

The Amnesty International’s statement continues: “The Thai police force has a long and disturbing track record of using torture and other forms of ill-treatment to extract ‘confessions’. This is far from an isolated case – the Thai authorities must start taking concrete steps to stamp out torture , not just paying lip service to doing so,”

“We hope that the Thai authorities will ensure the truth in a retrial that respects international human rights law and standards, so that the families of Hannah Witheridge and David Miller get the justice and peace of mind they deserve.”

In yesterday’s verdict, the judges said there is no clear sign of torture on Zaw Lin and Wai Phyo. A physician who inspected the two defendants did find some bruises and marks, but failed to say for certain who or what caused them, the court said.

The court also downplayed the claim of torture by arguing that police officers involved in the arrest and interrogation of Zaw Lin and Wai Phyo had no history of disputes or grudges against the pair, so it was unlikely for them to behave in an unlawful way toward the suspects.

In October, the National Human Rights Commission launched its own investigation into the two defendants’ torture claim. After postponing the Commission’s summon for five times, a police representative eventually met with the agency and insisted that the claim was baseless.


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