Thailand’s Supreme Court has upheld murder convictions against two Myanmar migrant workers sentenced to death for killing two British backpackers.
Wai Phyo and Zaw Lin were sentenced to death in December 2015 for the murder of David Miller and Hannah Witheridge, who were found dead on the island of Koh Tao in September 2014.
Phyo and Lin initially confessed to the killings, but their supporters claim they were tortured into making the confession by police.
Lawyers also claim that forensic evidence used to convict them was contaminated and should be thrown out.
Following the murders of David and Hannah, Koh Tao earned the nicknamed of ‘death island’ due to the number of western tourists who have died or gone missing there. As of July last year, the total stood at ten.
In their verdict, a panel of two judges said the death sentences handed down by lower courts would be upheld as 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.
The men’s legal team said it would seek a royal pardon within 60 days, as provided in Thai law.
After the discovery of the British tourists’ bodies on a beach on Koh Tao, police said Hannah, from Norfolk, had been raped and bludgeoned to death while David, from Jersey, had suffered blows to his head.
The murders sullied Thailand’s image in the tourism industry, which accounts for about 10 percent of the country’s economy.
Zaw Lin and Win Zaw Htun were quickly arrested and later sentenced to death in 2015, a verdict that was upheld by the appeal court in 2017.
Thai police have faced widespread domestic and international criticism for their handling of the case and the evidence.
A pro-bono legal team defending the men has said evidence collected by police was unreliable and not in accordance with internationally accepted standards, arguing it should not have been used to convict them.
The lawyers have also said the accused men were tortured and coerced into making confessions they later retracted.
‘The death sentence against the two accused and their conviction should be reversed and quashed,’ Andy Hall, an adviser to the men’s legal team, said in a statement to media.
‘DNA and forensics evidence relied on to convict Zaw Law and Wai Phyo, and sentence them to death in the Koh Tao murder case, was fundamentally flawed and unreliable in terms of international standards.’
Thai courts have rejected accusations of torture and ruled that DNA evidence linked the workers to the crime.
David and Hannah are just two of ten western tourists who are known to have been killed, died in suspicious circumstances, or gone missing on Koh Tao since 2012.
In 2012, 32-year-old Ben Harrington died in what Thai police said was a motorbike crash, but his parents said they became suspicious of the explanation when officers tried to cremate his body the following day.
Despite years of inquiries about her son’s death, including Freedom of Information requests submitted to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, no fresh details have been forthcoming.
Aside from Hannah and David, 2014 also saw the death of Nick Pearson , 25, from Derby, who was found floating in the ocean on New Year’s Day. His parents believe he was murdered.
The following year Briton Christina Annesley , 23, was found dead from what Thai police described as mixing alcohol with antibiotics for a chest infection.
Then, 29-year-old Frenchman Dimitri Povse was also found hanged with officers describing it as a suicide.
However, Christina’s family say no toxicology report was carried out, raising questions about her death, while Dimitri’s family say he could not have hanged himself because his hands were tied behind his back.
Luke Miller, a bricklayer from the Isle of Wight, was then found dead in a pool on the island in 2016 with Thai police saying there was no evidence of foul play, despite his family saying they had received conflicting reports of events before his death.
In 2017, Belgian Elise Dallemagne was found dead in the jungle of Koh Tao in what police said was suicide by hanging – though her family rejected that explanation.
They believe she was murdered while trying to escape from a Buddhist cult.
The same year Russian tourist Valentina Novozhyonova , 23, vanished from her hostel along with her diving gear. No trace of her has ever been found, though the official Thai police account is that she died at sea.
Then, in June last year 47-year-old German Bernd Grotsch was found dead near his home on the island after what authorities described as a heart attack or snake bite.
But his family said at the time that they had not received an autopsy report and had suspicions about the death.