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The case against Zaw Lin and Win Zaw Htun, suspects in the Koh Tao murder investigation, got under way in Koh Samui on Tuesday morning with a Thai judge turning down a request by defence lawyers that the hearing be postponed for a month due to a lack of preparation time.
Speaking to DVB by phone during a court recess, Andy Hall, a British activist who campaigns for Burmese migrant rights, said, “It is really disappointing. We believe this will impede the trial.”
Earlier, Hall tweeted from the Samui courthouse: “Appointed defence lawyers had 30 minutes with the accused yesterday and arrived late last night. Right to fair trial means adequate [preparation] time.”
He said that prosecutors argued that witnesses may “run away” if the hearing is delayed.
Three Burmese witnesses are due to testify at the hearing: Maung Maung, identified as the “third Burmese” on the beach on the night of the rape and murder of two British tourists, and two others, Lin Lin and Ni Ni Aung [also reported to DVB as Aung Zaw Lin and Nyi Nyi Aung], whose roles are as yet unknown.
Suspects Zaw Lin and Win Zaw Htun were in court to confirm their legal representation, Hall said.
Zaw Lin and Win Zaw Htun, both 21 years of age from Kyaukphyu in Arakan State, are being detained pending charges relating to the rape and murder of Hannah Witheridge, 23, and the murder of David Miller, 24, both from England. The British couple were bludgeoned to death on 15 September on the Thai island resort of Koh Tao.
Burmese, Thai and British officials were due to meet in Bangkok on Tuesday morning to discuss the case, according to Zaw Htay, director of the Burmese President’s Office.
“This case concerns all three countries as the murder victims were British, the suspects are Burmese, and it took place in Thailand,” said Zaw Htay. “The Thai police have assured us that details of their investigation will be explained to the concerned embassies on behalf of their governments.
“We are looking to ensure transparency in the investigation and legal rights for the suspects.”
Meanwhile, on Monday, a motion calling for Burma’s bicameral parliament to appeal to the Thai government to ensure the human rights and legal protection of the two Burmese suspects was unanimously approved by MPs.
Upper House MP Hla Swe of the ruling USDP said, “We would like to inform the Thai assembly that Burma’s parliament, government and media are watching this case, so that they will be more attentive. We believe justice will prevail. We want to ensure justice and a fair trial as we heard the youngsters were subjected to torture and punched by the translators.”
Meanwhile in London, the British government on Monday summoned Thailand’s top diplomatic representative to lay out its “real concern” about the murder investigation.
In Rangoon, family members of Zaw Lin and Win Zaw Htun are reportedly awaiting passports to travel to Thailand.
Speaking to DVB on Monday, Htun Htun Htike, the father of Win Zaw Htun, said, “I would like to request that Interpol help in finding out the truth and exposing the real murderers.”
Thin Shwe Aung, the uncle of Zaw Lin, said, “My nephew left to work in a foreign land to work hard and earn money. I am angry that he is being made a scapegoat like this in a foreign land.”