Thai king commutes sentences of two death row inmates for murder of British backpackers


The bodies of Hanna Witheridge, 23, and David Miller, 24, were discovered in September 2014 on a beach on Koh Tao, a small island in the Gulf of Thailand.

They were partially undressed and had suffered serious head injuries. Witheridge had been raped.

Two Burmese men, Zaw Lin and Wai Phyo – also known as Win Zaw Htun – were arrested almost two weeks after the bodies were found. In 2015, they were both found guilty and sentenced to death. Now, they risk life imprisonment instead, said Nakhon Chompuchat, the defense lawyer for the two men.

On Friday, the Thai king granted a mass royal pardon to death row inmates who exhausted all appeal options and never received a royal pardon.

“This time it will be their first time. So this time, they have the right to receive it, ”said Chompuchat. “They are no longer in the execution queue. “Royal pardon was created in the spirit of the king’s birthday, to offer convicts the opportunity to “reverse their behavior and become good citizens,” says the text of the law.

High end case

The two men, from Rakhine State in Myanmar, were working in the hospitality industry on the island at the time of the killings. After their arrest, they confessed but later recanted, claiming that their guilty confessions were made under duress.

The killings on the famous dive island of Koh Tao have drawn media attention around the world. Defense lawyers for the two men later alleged that police rushed the investigation to preserve Thailand’s image as one of the world’s most popular tourist destinations.

The defense argued the investigation was flawed due to “alleged mismanagement of forensic evidence, abuse of suspects and intimidation of witnesses,” according to a previous statement released by the Migrant Worker Rights Network, an advocacy group that assists the advocacy team.

Thai police said forensic evidence, including DNA samples from cigarette butts found near the bodies, linked the men at the scene.

The first appeal upheld the guilty verdict in 2017. The case was appealed again, leading the Supreme Court to uphold the verdict and the death penalty. The Supreme Court ruled that the forensic evidence was “clear, credible and detailed” and refuted suggestions that the police had mismanaged the case.

In 2018, Thailand lifted a de facto moratorium on the use of the death penalty, executing a man by lethal injection in the country’s first execution since August 2009, rights groups said.


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