Myanmar President Thein Sein has asked visiting Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha to carry out a fair probe into the alleged involvement of two Myanmar nationals in the recent murder of two British tourists which has triggered concerns in the local media and among civil society groups, officials said Friday.
More than a dozen activists protested in Yangon, Myanmar's largest city, against the arrest of the two in Thailand, questioning the impartiality of the police investigation into the murders, which was among topics discussed between the leaders of the neighboring countries a day earlier.
The protesters contend that Thai police may have coerced the two Myanmar men—undocumented migrant workers Zaw Lin and Win Zaw Htun, both 21—to confess to the crime under duress.
Thai authorities arrested the two last month and accused them of bludgeoning to death British backpackers Hannah Witheridge, 23, and David Miller, 24, whose bodies were found on the southern Thai tourist island of Koh Tao. They also have been charged with raping Witheridge.
Thein Sein met Prayuth at his office in the capital Naypyidaw and called for a “fair probe” into the duo’s links to the crime, according to a senior official at the president’s office who declined to be named.
The protestors also demanded that Myanmar’s government introduce new laws to protect Myanmar migrant workers worldwide and initiate its own investigation to ensure the two citizens received a fair trial.
They had submitted an application to protest outside the Thai embassy, but it was turned down for security reasons.
Protestors speak out
Social activist Nay Myo Zin told RFA’s Myanmar Service that the Thai government should thoroughly investigate the case with the help of international investigators and keep the public informed of the probe.
Protestor Thein Shwe said the case indicated that Myanmar’s embassies abroad do not pay close attention to the welfare of its citizens.
This has allowed the Thais “to do whatever they want to Myanmar citizens,” he said.
Sabel Aung, another protester who manages a travel agency, told RFA that her company was worried that publicity surrounding the case would prevent people from visiting Myanmar.
“If our two Myanmar citizens committed that crime, we will accept whatever punishment they receive, but if they did not commit the crime, we want the truth,” she said
During their meeting, Thein Sein told Prayuth that while Myanmar migrants have to abide by Thai laws, the Thai government have a legal duty to protect them.
He also said that Myanmar’s media and civil society groups were closely monitoring the case, warning that it could affect bilateral relations.
In response, Prayuth said the two men were not found guilty yet and assured Thein Sein that his government would decide on the case fairly to win the trust of Myanmar’s people and the international community.
Defending the police
After he returned to Bangkok on Friday, Prayuth defended the police investigation of the murders amid criticism that the two Myanmar men may have confessed under duress and that the forensic work was botched, Reuters news agency reported.
Thai police have been accused of mismanaging the investigation by chasing the wrong leads and not cordoning off the crime scene quickly enough, according to news reports.
But police have denied allegations of abuse during the investigation and said the arrested men had confessed to the crime, although neither had yet to appear in court to face charges and speak for himself.
The suspects' lawyer, Aung Myo Thant, has called the case a “set-up,” Reuters reported.
“The Thai authorities must initiate an independent, effective and transparent investigation into mounting allegations of torture and other ill-treatment by police,” said Richard Bennett, Amnesty International’s Asia-Pacific program director, in a statement this week.
The statement also noted that a lawyer on the Myanmar embassy’s legal team had said that one of the arrested men was allegedly beaten by police and threatened with electrocution.
The statement noted that according to other reports, police beat Myanmar migrant workers they questioned in connection with the crime, threatened them and poured boiling water over them.
“Numerous sources have reported further acts of torture and other cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment of other migrant workers from Myanmar arrested by police in connection with the investigation,” the statement said.
Reported by Thin Thiri and Thiha Tun for RFA's Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.