THE Thai embassy in Yangon has extended its closure over concerns about the ongoing demonstrations that began in the city last month over the death sentences handed down to Burmese migrant workers in Koh Tao for murdering two British tourists.
According to the Bangkok Post, the embassy had planned to open on Monday, but concerns for staff and Thai nationals have forced it to remain closed.
An announcement on the Thai embassy site reads:
The Consular Section of the Royal Thai Embassy in Yangon will remain closed during 5 – 8 January 2016 due to ongoing demonstration which have caused difficulties in access to the compound of the Royal Thai Embassy. During this service suspension, the Embassy will provide visa service to emergency case only. Please contact 09-5090926 for further information and this special service. The Royal Thai Embassy will resume the operation of its consular section immediately after the cessation of the demonstration and when safety and convenient access to the Embassy of all clients are fully assured.
Hundreds of protesters have gathered outside the embassy in Yangon since the verdict on December 24 with placards that read “Shameless Thailand government”, “Save Myanmar Poor Boys”, “Free Our Innocent Citizens”, and “We want justice”.
Local police have also had to block Manawhari Road and downtown Pyay Road and deploy more personnel.
Vigils have been held across the country and Eleven Myanmar reported that a petition was sent to the Thai embassy on January 5 with the signatures of more than 25,000 people protesting against the verdict.
“We are going to send the petition for the truth about the two Myanmar workers to the Thai ambassador on January 5. More than 25,000 people from 12 cities across the country petitioned against the Koh Tao verdict. We, Myanmar citizens, don’t expect the release of the two Myanmar citizens as a result of the petition. However, we believe the petition will support the quest for truth about the two Myanmar citizens. We expected that the Thailand government will reconsider the Koh Tao verdict because the signatures express the real desire of the Myanmar people,” said Thet Swe Win, who sent the petition to the Thai embassy.
The protests began after the verdict, with The Nation reporting on December 26 that more than 1000 residents had gathered outside the embassy on Christmas Day:
Yesterday, more than 1,000 Yangon residents showed up outside the Royal Thai Embassy from about 10.30am to protest and voice their dissatisfaction over the verdict.At the time of going to press, some 100 protesters were still camped outside the embassy, while monks lit candles in front of the building.
On December 30, the Associated Press reported that hundreds had gathered in a fifth day of protests over the conviction:
Hundreds of people in Burma (Myanmar) have staged a fifth day of protests against death sentences issued by a Thai court to two Burma men convicted of murdering a pair of British backpackers, but who are seen by many as scapegoats in the high-profile case.
Tuesday’s protest was held outside the Thai Embassy, which has closed its consular section for the entire week due to the ongoing demonstrations since last week’s verdict.
One of the protesters, comedian Khin Hlaing, said the reputation of the nation was at stake. The Nation quoted him:
“This cannot be regarded as only two lives of our |citizens. It is the image of our country. It is the dignity of our |government. Most Thai and Myanmar people believe that they did not kill the two Britons. So we believe it is a miscarriage of justice. We want to know the real truth. We need inclusive cooperation. All stakeholders including the government and non-government organisations are encouraged to join campaigns against the court’s final decision.”
Death sentences were handed to Zaw Lin and Win Zaw Htun on December 24 for murdering British tourists Hannah Witheridge and killing David Miller on Koh Tao in September 2014. Autopsies revealed Witheridge had also been raped.
International media and human rights groups have all criticised the police investigation into the case and the court’s verdict.
As reported by Daniel Maxwell on Asian Correspondent:
Many observers had anticipated the proceeding at the Koh Samui Courthouse would lead to the acquittal of the two Burmese migrants workers who insist they are innocent, and there has been strong international reaction to the guilty verdict and death sentence.
Both men have said they are innocent and were tortured by police for their confessions.