Defendants in tourist murders allege torture by Thai police

AP News
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Posted: Oct 12, 2015 6:29 AM

BANGKOK (AP) — The lawyer defending two Myanmar migrants in the murders of two British tourists on a Thai resort island accused the police Monday of torturing his clients, beating them and threatening to "make them disappear" in order to extract confessions.

Allegations of police torture in this case, and in Thailand in general, are not new, but in an interview with The Associated Press, defense lawyer Nakhon Chompuchat gave extensive details about the alleged intimidation, physical violence and threats his clients faced. The police have consistently denied they tortured the accused.

The trial in the murders of David Miller, 24, and Hannah Witheridge, 23, ended Sunday. Nakhon said the judge gave him and the prosecutor until Oct. 26 to deliver their closing statements before giving his verdict on Dec. 24.

The battered bodies of the couple were found Sept. 14 last year on the rocky shores of Koh Tao, a scenic island in the Gulf of Thailand known for its scuba diving. Autopsies showed that the young backpackers, who had met on the island while staying at the same hotel, both suffered severe head wounds and that Witheridge had been raped.

Two men from Myanmar, also known as Burma, working illegally on Koh Tao were arrested, and put on trial after they confessed. They later recanted their confessions.

Nakhon cited one of the defendants, Wai Phyo, as saying that police handcuffed him naked, took pictures of him and forced him to confess that he was the man caught on a closed-circuit television camera near the murder scene.

"He said that police officers flicked his genitals hard, pulled his legs apart and took photographs of him naked," Nakhon said in a telephone interview. "They also kicked him in the back, punched him, slapped him, threatened to tie him to a rock and drop him in the sea, chop off his arms and legs, throw his body into the sea to feed the fish."

He said the police told Wai Phyo: "'Those who don't have passports don't have rights. If they disappear, nobody would notice.'"

Police linked Wai Phyo to the murders because of a phone that was found in the shrubs behind his room.

Nakhon said Wai Phyo found the phone on the beach the night of the murder, and brought it with him to recharge the next morning. When he heard about the murder the next morning, he was afraid he would get into trouble, so he smashed the phone, put it in a plastic bag and threw it into the undergrowth behind his room.

Zaw Lin, the other defendant, said he was blindfolded by police and beaten on his chest.

Although a police-appointed doctor said no bruises were found on his chest, prison doctors testified that the bruises did exist.

Nakhon said Zaw Lin also claimed that a police-appointed Burmese translator took part in the beating. He was told he would be killed if he didn't admit to the charges, Nakhon said. "High-ranking officers also told Zaw Lin that he was still young and would only spend two or three years in prison," he said.

"He also said he was constantly suffocated by a plastic bag that was put over his head until he passed out. He was afraid he would die," Nakhon said.

During the trial, the defense mostly focused on the problems of using unprofessional translators to interrogate the two defendants, and their ethnic biases against the accused.