August 29, 2019 / 4:34 AM / 18 days ago

Myanmar workers facing death penalty for British tourist murders to seek Thai pardon

BANGKOK (Reuters) - Two migrant workers from Myanmar will seek a royal pardon from Thailand’s king after its Supreme Court on Thursday upheld their death sentences for the murder of two British backpackers that drew world attention to the tourist island of Koh Tao.

Myanmar migrant workers Zaw Lin and Win Zaw Htun arrive at the Nonthaburi provincial court in Thailand, August 29, 2019. REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha

The defense lawyer said he would seek a royal pardon in the Sept. 2014 case, which sparked outrage among rights groups who say the men were scapegoated and coerced into confessing by police seeking a quick arrest.

“We will petition for royal pardon within 60 days so they would not be executed,” Nakhon Chompuchart told reporters.

Thai law allows 60 days for those sentenced to death to seek a pardon, but if the request is dismissed an execution can go ahead.

The workers, Zaw Lin and Win Zaw Htun, were sentenced to death for the murder of David Miller, 24, and the murder and rape of Hannah Witheridge, 23, whose bodies were discovered on a beach in the diving haven of Koh Tao.

Police said Witheridge had been raped and bludgeoned to death and Miller had suffered blows to his head.

Tourism accounts for about a tenth of the Thai economy.

Earlier, a panel of two Supreme Court judges upheld decisions by lower courts, saying the men had been found guilty of murder and rape on the basis of evidence and forensic results.

The men displayed no emotion as they listened intently to a translator while the verdict was read at a court in the province of Nonthaburi, just north of Bangkok, the capital.

“Zaw Lin and Win Zaw Htun said afterwards that they are sad and worried by the verdict, because they said they did not commit the crime,” the court translator, Aye Mar Cho, told Reuters.

The men were convicted and sentenced to death in 2015, a verdict upheld by an appeal court in 2017.

A pro-bono legal team defending the men has said evidence collected by police was substandard. The lawyers have also said they were tortured and coerced into making confessions they later retracted.

“DNA and forensics evidence ... was in my opinion fundamentally flawed and should always have been considered unreliable, when considered against international standards,” said labour activist Andy Hall.

The Supreme Court rejected accusations of torture and ruled that DNA evidence linked the workers to the crime.

All death sentences in Thailand had been commuted by royal pardon for the nine years before a murder convict was executed in June last year by lethal injection.

Writing by Patpicha Tanakasempipat and Panu Wongcha-um; Editing by Kay Johnson and Clarence Fernandez

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