There were protests outside the Thai embassy in Yangon, Myanmar’s biggest city, and in towns around Thailand over the weekend calling for the release of the two convicts, Zaw Lin and Wai Phyo (also known as Win Zaw Htun). Supporters say the pair were used as scapegoats by authorities in an effort to close the high-profile case.
Thailand has defended its investigation into the 2014 murder of two British tourists after a court sentenced two Burmese men to death for the killings.
The murder of backpackers Hannah Witheridge, 23, and David Miller, 24, on the island of Koh Tao in September 2014 dented Thailand’s image as a tourist haven and raised questions about police competency.
The police investigation was mired in controversy, including allegations of incompetence, torture and mishandling of crucial DNA evidence. During the trial, a judge dismissed allegations of torture, saying there was no evidence it took place.
Thailand’s prime minister Prayuth Chan-ocha said critics should respect the verdict and that Thailand’s justice system would not bow to public pressure.
“They have the right to appeal, right? Laws all over the world have this. Or should Thai law not have this? Is it the case that we should release all people when pressured?,” Prayuth told reporters on Monday before boarding a plane to the southern province of Surat Thani.
On Sunday the Thai police spokesman Dejnarong Suthicharnbancha said: “I would like to reassure that the investigation process of police was transparent and of a standard that is acceptable.”
The deputy police spokesman Piyaphand Pingmuang said: “We cannot undo the investigation.” He asked Thai and Burmese nationals not to join demonstrations against the verdict.
“Some groups are trying to make this a political matter and about diplomatic ties, but there are no issues because Thailand has communicated with the Myanmar government to create understanding on this matter,” Piyaphand said.
In a new year message to the Thai defence minister, Gen Prawit Wongsuwan, Myanmar’s commander-in-chief, Min Aung Hlaing, requested that evidence in the case be reviewed. “It is more important that an innocent person should not be convicted rather than a guilty person not be punished,” he said.
Miller’s family have defended the work of the Thai police, saying a “methodical and thorough” investigation was conducted.