Thailand: Koh Tao back in spotlight after man found hanged
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Thailand: Koh Tao back in spotlight after man found hanged

Grim speculation over Thai-style justice pervades internet after Frenchman is found hanged on Koh Tao with hands tied behind his back

DAYS after the Koh Tao murder trial was postponed until July this year, in which two Burmese men are accused of murdering British travelers David Miller, 24, and Hannah Witheridge, 23, a 29-year-old Frenchman was found hanged from a beam from Ta Chin bungalows on the same island. Photographs of the man seen hanging from a wooden beam appeared online and have been widely shared via social media, with many commentators writing of the possibility of foul play.

Thai police and physicians that carried out an autopsy have said that they are not treating the case as a homicide, stating that the asphyxiation was a suicide. However, due to the photographs which clearly show that the man’s hands are tied behind his back, and in view of the controversy that weighs upon the current murder case, there seems to be little, if any, public belief in the conclusion by forensics.

The victim left a suicide note: “Iris, I love you. Suicide seems easy but it is actually difficult.”

The presumed suicide has resonated with some parts of the concerned public familiar with the trial of the two Burmese men. During the initial police investigation prior to their arrest Scotsman, Sean McAnna, who had been staying on the island for some time and knew the victims, had said that he was threatened by local mafia and someone he believed was a policeman shortly after the pair were killed.

McAnna told the UK Telegraph that the people he believed to be mafia were trying to make him a scapegoat for the murder, saying that they told him, “It was you who killed them. You’ve got two people’s deaths on your hands. We know it was you. You’re going to hang yourself tonight and we are going to watch you hang. You will die tonight.” McAnna fled from the island soon after. “They would have taken me up into the hills and hung me to make it look like I’d hung myself,” he told the Telegraph.

Online speculation concerning the suicide and ‘foul play’ has been motivated not only by McAnna’s statement, but also the fact that last month a Burmese team of investigators working with the Burmese government concluded after their investigation that the two accused men were innocent.  In a report in the Irrawaddy a spokesperson for the investigation team said, “According to what we know and eyewitness information we have gathered, we believe they are innocent.”

Koh Tao’s reputation and that of the Thai police has further been damaged in the past year by reports in the British press of another suspicious death, Nick Pearson, 25, who was last seen getting into bed, but was found later on the beach on January 1, 2014 having succumbed to what police said was a fall from a high place and drowning. The parents of the man have been outspoken in what they say is a cover-up for murder and a dubious investigation by police. Pearson’s head was “gashed” according to his parents. Although the cliff close to where the family was staying was not near any water, a British coroner later revealed in a second autopsy that Pearson did not have any broken bones. The Thai police investigation said he had fallen from some 50ft. “He didn’t look like someone who had been in the water for hours – there was still dried blood on his face. It was all wrong,” the parents told The Mirror, adding that their other son was told there are “powerful people” on the island and that the family should not cause trouble.

It would seem that if Koh Tao, the Thai police, and Thai tourism itself wants to clear its name then an impartial investigation needs to be led into all the above events, including all those accused of being mafia, and the police that led the initial investigation. The British police, although having already sent a team to Koh Tao, were not able to investigate the case or any of the people involved. Nonetheless, following the British Met’s trip to the island a public statement was released by the British Foreign Office from the parents of Witheridge and Miller in which they said that the that the evidence against the accused was “powerful and compelling”. This has somewhat hindered the defense of the Burmese men as the statement is prejudicial to their case. Justifiably the public is concerned, as well as the defense team, as to why the FCO would release such a damning statement when their assertions have been formed from what looks to most people like a dubious investigation, led in such a way that it almost mirrors previous cases of high profile murders in Thailand where scapegoats were used. At best it was impolitic, at worst life-threatening for the accused.

Echoing the Burmese team of investigators that in the end the “Thai judiciary decides on the case”, the British government told The Guardian, “The British Government cannot interfere in Thailand’s judicial proceedings, just as other governments are unable to interfere in our own judicial processes. We have called for the investigation to be conducted in a fair and transparent way, in line with international standards.”

The words “called for”, and I doubt any British official would argue this, have about as much weight as a dandelion seed cast aloft into a hurricane. If something is rotten in Koh Tao, and perhaps in many parts of Thailand where justice has not been served under the subterfuge of powerful officials and local gangsters, then the rescue mission to save Thailand’s reputation as a safe tourist destination can be only be taken by those partly accused of discrediting it. The system has to clean itself. The foreign office, impartial investigators, human rights advocates, are deficient to act in any way except for expressing their views.

Thailand has perhaps unfairly been given the epithet of “one of the most dangerous tourist destinations on Earth”, which relates to accidents as well as crime. Most tourists already know that paradise can come at a price. Many developing countries are arguably more dangerous than developed countries because of lax laws, poor infrastructure, corruption, etc. It’s how crime is dealt with that is tarnishing the image of Thailand, not the crimes themselves. A state of arrested development, which is the cultural phenomenon of ‘losing face’, is Thailand’s worst enemy.

READ MORE: Not saving Thailand’s face: the backlash of police corruption in tourist murders

Losing face (justice being served) is part of the rightful appropriation of blame that is necessary in any efficient justice system. Because of the complexity of corruption, and how deeply entrenched and interwoven it is in Thai society, rightful appropriation of blame to an honest degree may take a generation or two to manifest. Until that time washed-up bodies, suicide notes, and immigrants being accused of high profile murders will always find their way into the trough of speculation because there’s nowhere else for them to go. Truth is a rare commodity where justice is concerned in Thailand, and while this was mostly concealed within the country prior to the advent of social media, it’s now Thailand’s worst kept secret.