On Tuesday October 7, Amnesty International said Thailand must initiate “an independent, effective and transparent investigation into mounting allegations of torture and other ill-treatment by police” during the investigation into the murder of two British tourists on the island of Koh Tao.
Tourists David Miller, 24, from Jersey and Hannah Witheridge, 23, from Great Yarmouth, were murdered in the early hours of September 15 on the tourist island of Koh Tao, a small island north of Koh Samui and Koh Phangan in the Surat Thani province.
Thai forensics found that Miller died from drowning and blows to the head, while Witheridge died from severe head wounds.
Thai police were under a great amount of pressure to solve the case quickly after the murders dented Thailand’s tourist-friendly image and came after the industry had already been battered by months of political unrest, a May 22 coup and military martial law.
On October 3, police announced two Myanmar workers had admitted to killing the tourists and that DNA found on Witheridge matched samples taken from the two men.
National police chief General Somyot Poompanmuang said in a news conference in Bangkok that the suspects, identified only as “Saw Rim” and “Win”, both 21, have been charged with the murders and the rape of Witheridge. If found guilty, both men could face the death penalty.
According to Amnesty International, a lawyer for the Burmese Embassy’s legal team, who met the two suspects, said the one of the men had alleged that the police beat him and threatened him with electrocution.
Thai newspaper, Khao Sod also published an editorial on Monday claiming there are “legitimate concerns” that the confessions had been obtained “under duress.”
The article said, “Thai police have a history of using physical abuse to extract false confessions that are later retracted, and there was no lawyer present during Saw and Win’s interrogation.”
Following the arrests the BBC reported that Thai authorities made the Burmese suspects take part in a public, televised enactment of the crime, which undermined their right to be presumed innocent.
Amnesty International said there have been numerous reports of acts of torture and other cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment of other migrant workers from Burma arrested by police in connection with the investigation. Police officers are alleged to have poured boiling water over some of the Burmese migrant workers they were questioning. Others were also beaten and threatened.
Richard Bennett, Amnesty International’s Asia-Pacific Programme director, said, “The pressure to be seen to be solving an appalling crime that has garnered considerable attention should not result in the violation of rights, including to a fair trial. Authorities should provide protection from threats and acts of retaliation to anyone, regardless of their immigration status.”
“They must also ensure that any alleged confession or information that has been coerced as a result of torture is not admitted as evidence in court, unless to prove that torture has been carried out.”