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Appeal submitted for Koh Tao murder case

The mothers of Zaw Linn and Wai Phyo appear in front of the Koh Samui Provincial on 23 May 2016. (Photo: Migrant Workers' Rights Network / Facebook)

Lawyers filed an appeal today for two Burmese migrant workers sentenced to death by a Thai court for the murder of British holidaymakers Hannah Witheridge and David Miller on the resort island of Koh Tao more than a year and a half ago.

The defence team for Zaw Linn and Wai Phyo (also known as Win Zaw Tun) said they submitted the appeal at the Koh Samui Provincial Court in southern Thailand on Monday morning. The two men were found guilty last year of the rape and murder of Witheridge, 23, and murder of Miller, 24, on Koh Tao in southern Thailand in September 2014.

Andy Hall, a migrant rights activist assisting the defence team, said the main thrust of the appeal relates to issues with the forensic evidence.

Almost half of the appeal contests the reliability of DNA evidence accepted by the Koh Samui Court, said Hall. The defense insists the alleged evidence taken from cigarette butts, sperm and saliva is wholly unreliable, inadmissible and should not have been considered by the court.

According to Hall, “It [the evidence] wasn’t collected or analysed or reported to meet international standards and a lot of evidence was missing or not complete. Lots of errors were made and the chance of contamination cannot be ruled out.”

The appeal is 198 pages long and took more than five months to prepare. It includes analysis from international forensics and crime experts to prove the innocence of the two migrants.

The interrogation of the migrant workers was also described in the appeal as unlawful because it was done without lawyers or trusted persons present. The appeal also states that the two accused said they were beaten and tortured during their detention to elicit confessions. The confessions were retracted on 14 October 2014 on the grounds that they were made involuntarily.

Hall expressed doubts that the prosecution team will move quickly on the appeal. “It took us five months to do the appeal because of the length of the judgement but then the prosecution could take five months to respond,” he told DVB by phone on Monday.

The court will likely hand down a ruling in 2017.

Hall, who recently visited Zaw Linn and Wai Phyo in prison, said that both men were optimistic about the ultimate outcome of their case. “They were both very interested in the new government [in Burma] and how it approaches their case.”

The Koh Samui Court accepted the appeal but has not yet announced a hearing date.

The mothers of Zaw Linn and Wai Phyo accompanied the lawyers to the court this morning after visiting their sons on death row in maximum-security Bang Kwang Prison in Nonthaburi, near Bangkok, on the weekend.

Reporting by Nang Mya Nadi and Libby Hogan