Capital punishment for social outcasts

Two young men, wearing hats with their hands together in a gesture of respect, hope to be released from their fate. They want the truth. People from Myanmar and around the world want the truth also.

16 Oct 2019

(Win Zaw Tun (Left) and Zaw Lin (Right) during their court appearance. Photo: EPA)

By Eka Rite | DMG

Two young men, wearing hats with their hands together in a gesture of respect, hope to be released from their fate. They want the truth. People from Myanmar and around the world want the truth also.

They are Myanmar migrant workers in Thailand: Mg Win Zaw Tun from Kyauk Phyu Township and Mg Zaw Lin from Rambree Township.

The duo has been detained for the murder of British tourists Hannah Witheridge,23, and David Miller, 24, on Koh Tao island in Thailand. The two backpackers were killed on 14 September night in 2014.
Since the media, human rights groups and other different organizations pointed out that the arrest of two Myanmar migrant workers was not fair, their case took up a lot of time, from September in 2014 to December in 2015.

Thailand’s Koh Samui court ordered the death sentence on 24 December in 2015. The pair submitted appeals twice to overturn the death sentence. Finally, the Supreme Court upheld the conviction, so they have few options except to submit a plea for clemency to the King of Thailand.

On 23 December in 2015, supporters of the two migrant workers wished well for them. Everyone believed that they would be found not guilty. But their family members and people from Myanmar had to shed tears on 29 August this year when the Supreme Court of Thailand rejected their appeal.

People from Myanmar and Thailand as well as other countries believed that the two Myanmar migrant workers were scapegoats at the hands of Thai police. When they heard the decision of the court, they viewed the judicial system in Thailand as grossly corrupt.

(David Miller and Hannah Witheridge only met hours before they were murdered.)

December 25 in 2015 was not a good day for the victims Hannah Witheridge and David Miller. In fact, most Myanmar migrant workers in Thailand dare not walk over even beggars, let alone tourists. That’s why the victims only know who committed the offence.

There were no solid eyewitnesses for the case and DNA test results were dubious. The scene of the crime is even under question because both police and the accused don’t agree on the location of the crime scene. The accused have been threatened during interrogation. The process of seizing evidence did not comply with the legal protocol. And, there were no fingerprints of the accused on the handle of the garden hoe, the so-called murder weapon.

Thailand’s Chief Forensic scientist Dr. Pornthip Rojanasund said at the court hearing that the DNA on the blood-stained hoe found near the dead bodies does not match with the DNA taken from the two accused.

The two accused also said that they confessed to the murder because they were tortured by Thai police. The decision of the court ruling a death sentence on the pair without having strong evidence reflects the Thai government’s contempt of Myanmar people.


The case happened during the time when the Thai military declared a coup. And, the country’s economy was in downturn while the court ordered the punishment on them. The court’s decision is presumably made to show that Thai people do not commit murder and tourists do not need to worry about their safety treaveling in Thailand so it could not hurt the tourist trade, a major source of revenue for Thailand.

British officials paid a visit to the island of Koh Tao accompanied with Jarumporn Suramanee, advisor to the Thai national police chief and Suwat Jaengyodsuk, acting deputy of the commander of the Metropolitan Police Bureau. They inspected Sairee beach where the two Brits were murdered and the AC bar, where the two victims were last seen. Their investigation did not turn up any conclusive evidence that would clear both Win and Zaw.

The resort island of Koh Tao is one of many homes for the Thai mafia. It’s also a place to buy drugs easily. Most of the visitors to the island are foreigners.  Given the fact that drug smuggling is controlled by the family of the headman of the island, the family was suspected but they were not interrogated. Thai police previously accused two other Myanmar migrant workers but they were released due to insufficient evidence.
A delegation from the Myanmar embassy in Thailand, who are providing aid for Win and Zaw for their case hoped they wouldn’t be sentenced to death and other people felt the same way. Unfortunately their hopes were dashed they when the Thai court ruled for death.

The court’s decision follows protests in U.S.A, Japan and Myanmar on 25 December 2015 demanding the release of two Myanmar migrant workers from a death sentence. Political parties and CSOs in Myanmar have also stated their objections to the death penalty for the two men.

(May Thein the mother of defendant Win Zaw Tun cries following a court's verdict sentencing her son to death. Photo: EPA)

British labour rights activist Andy Hall, who is defense for Win and Zaw, said that he still believed that the pair were not guilty even after they have been sentenced. Similarly, Myanmar people believed that the pair did not commit the crime they had been accused of.

Their punishment shows the severity of Thailand’s judiciary system and the police’s investigation performance. It also proves that Thai people foster the mindset that Myanmar migrant workers are inferior to Thai people.

Myanmar migrant workers in Thailand, who have to work abroad because of poverty and lack of job opportunities in their own regions are treated as servants and social outcasts.
Moreover, most Thai police drop criminal cases Thai people commit against Myanmar migrant workers. The majority of Myanmar workers don’t go outside at nights, especially Myanmar female workers, who are afraid of going outside even in day time. If they need to go somewhere, they travel in groups, because Thai men often rape Myanmar migrant female workers.

(The mother of Zaw Lin (center) cries as she leaves court. Photo: EPA)

The situation for about three million Myanmar migrant workers in Thailand remains uncertain since they continue to be treated like second class citizens. No one can guarantee if they too will become sacrificial lambs for crimes they didn’t commit.