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Friday, December 25, 2015

Koh Tao Murders: Myanmar Journalists Urge Thai Press to ‘Reveal the Truth’

A van carrying Zaw Lin and Wai Phyo leaves Samui prison for Nakhon Si Thammarat prison Saturday morning.

 BANGKOK — The Myanmar Journalists Association is urging its Thai counterpart to work together and “reveal the truth” behind the conviction of two Myanmar men for the killings of two British backpackers in southern Thailand last year. 
In its open letter addressed to the Thai Journalist Association, the Myanmar media group said justice will prevail if media from the two nations work together in the coverage of the case, which has drawn intense scrutiny from the public.

“We do believe that our close cooperation in seeking justice after revealing the truth behind this controversial case will further promote the existing friendship not only between our two journalist associations but also between the peoples of our two countries,” the statement read, without mentioning any specifics. 

On Thursday Zaw Lin and Wai Phyo, two Myanmar men who were bar workers on Tao island, were found guilty of killing British tourists David Miller and Hannah Witheridge on Sept. 15, 2014. They were also convicted of raping Witheridge. 

For their alleged crimes, the two men were sentenced to death. 

The verdict sparked outrage on Myanmar social media and prompted protests in front of the Thai Embassy in Yangon. The Embassy in turn issued a warning for all Thais in Myanmar to be alert of the ongoing development. 

The following is the full open letter published by the Myanmar Journalist Association: 

As journalists our responsibility is to seek truth and justice.
We, the Myanmar journalists, would never forget the warm assistance that you provided during our dark hours of flash floods all over our country during the recent months.
MJA and TJA worked together to lend a helping hand to the flood victims. We shall always be working together in the same spirit.
Now is the time that calls for similar cooperation between us.
Let’s work together for the benefits of our peoples and for our beloved countries so that justice prevails. Let’s show the world that Myanmar and Thai journalists will fight together for justice, human rights and democratic values.
We do believe that our close cooperation in seeking justice after revealing the truth behind this controversial case will further promote the existing friendship not only between our two journalist associations but also between the peoples of our two countries.
Myanmar Journalist Association

As of the time of this writing, the Thai Journalist Association has not made any public response to the letter. 

Police investigation into the killings of Miller and Witheridge has been mired in controversy from the start. These shortcomings include the police’s failure to close down the ferry port to prevent potential suspects from fleeing the island, wild and contradictory speculation over the motives behind the killing, and a remark by a high-ranking police officer who said the perpetrators “could not have been Thais.” 

After Zaw Lin and Wai Phyo were arrested and identified as the killers, nearly every mainstream news agency in Thailand reported about the case by taking the police statement at face value. The two defendants were repeatedly called “Koh Tao murderers” by much of the Thai press. 

However, many on social media accused police of “scapegoating” Zaw Lin and Wai Phyo as a cover-up effort ordered by influential families on Tao island. Police have vehemently denied the allegation. 
On Thursday, the court on Samui island ruled that DNA samples collected from the crime scene and from Witheridge’s body clearly implicated Zaw Lin and Wai Phyo in the double murder, and subsequently sentenced both men to death. 

Miller’s family was among the first to publicly endorse the verdict. Reading a statement outside the courthouse on Thursday, Miller’s brother, Michael Miller, said he believed the evidence against the two defendants was overwhelming. 
The defense team argued that the police’s DNA test procedure was flawed, and said it will file an appeal within 30 days. 

On Saturday morning, security officers moved Zaw Lin and Wai Phyo from Samui provincial prison to another prison on the mainland, in Nakhon Si Thammarat province. They are expected to remain on death row throughout the appeal.

Nakhon Chompuchat, head of the defense lawyer team, said yesterday he was not told when the two defendants would be moved. 

“The officers feared that if we knew the schedule, we might try to snatch the suspects on the way,” Nakhon said, with a laugh. 

To reach us about this article or another matter, please contact us by e-mail at: ks.english@khaosod.co.th.

Follow Khaosod English on Facebook and Twitter for news, politics and more from Thailand.
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