Thailand: Justice looks elusive in Koh Tao murders trial
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Thailand: Justice looks elusive in Koh Tao murders trial

As the trial of two Burmese migrants for the murders of British backpackers Hannah Witheridge and David Miller on Koh Tao last year entered its second day, serious doubts remained over the ability of Thai authorities to deliver justice.

Zaw Lin and Wai Phyo, both 22, were charged in December last year, less than three months after the bodies of Miller, 24, and Witheridge, 23, were found on Sept. 15 on a beach on Koh Tao. Autopsies showed the British backpackers had suffered severe head wounds and Witheridge had been raped.

Central to the doubts was the request from the defence team to allow independent analysis of the DNA evidence that the prosecution case appears to hinge on. The court was due to rule on that request Thursday, but the early signs weren’t good.

KohTaoMurderTrial

Burmese migrant workers Zaw Lin, center front, and Win Zaw Htun, rear center, arrive at a provincial court in Surat Thani province, Thailand Wednesday. Pic: AP.

BBC correspondent Jonah Fisher tweeted Wednesday that a police source told him that there was no more DNA evidence for independent examination.

Worryingly, Sky News reporter Jonathan Samuels reported that the broadcaster’s translator had been “warned off” by local mafia; not a development that inspires confidence. There were numerous reports during last year’s hectic investigation of the murders that members of local mafia families were involved in the murder.

Even the authorities seem nervous with the massive media attention surrounding their trial. They initially barred journalists from the courtroom, later relenting on the condition that journalists didn’t take notes.

Also compelling is the suggestion by the defence team that the UK has provided significant new information. British migrant rights activist Andy Hall, who works for the defence, has described the information as “significant” but has not revealed details.

On Wednesday defence lawyer Aung Myo Thant described the testimonies of the prosecution witnesses as “inconsistent”, telling DVB news: “Four prosecution witnesses testified at the trial today: a police lieutenant, a forensic doctor, the brother of the Koh Tao island headman and his friend. In summary, none of them could precisely say that the two Burmese youngsters committed the murder. Their testimonies were also inconsistent.”

On the surface, at least, the handling of the trial looks shaky, though British authorities and the families of the victims have expressed satisfaction at how the investigation was conducted. There is a long way to go yet, with the trial not expected to finish in late September, giving Thai authorities plenty of time to restore confidence that justice will be done. So far, they haven’t got off to a very good start. When the verdict is delivered in October, we can only hope that justice will be served.

(READ MORE: Koh Tao murders: World watches as Burmese migrants go on trial)