BANGKOK (AP) — The trial of two Myanmar migrant workers accused of killing two British tourists on a popular resort island in southern Thailand began Friday, in a case seen as a test of Thailand’s justice system.
The bodies of David Miller, 24, and Hannah Witheridge, 23, were found Sept. 15 on a beach on the island of Koh Tao. Autopsies showed both had suffered severe head wounds and that Witheridge had been raped.
The trial is being held on the nearby island of Koh Samui, with prosecutors and defense lawyers submitting their plans for evidence and witnesses Friday in the case against Win Zaw Htun and Zaw Lin, both 21.
The men say they’re innocent of rape and murder charges, and that police tortured them to force confessions that they later recanted.
Relatives of the defendants were in court for the all-day hearing, at which the two accused again asserted their innocence. The judge set July 8 for the trial to resume with testimony from prosecution witnesses, rejecting a defense plea to delay proceeding until they could further evaluate evidence.
Concern that the men were tortured by police arose in part because migrant workers are often abused and mistreated without the safeguards of rights held by Thai citizens. But the allegations also caught the attention of the British government, which expressed its concern through diplomatic channels.
About 2.5 million people from Myanmar work in Thailand. Most of them work as domestic servants or in low-skilled manual labor industries like construction, fisheries, or the garment sector.
Investigating police officers faced a variety of criticisms, starting with their failure to secure the crime scene and releasing several names and pictures of suspects who turned out to be innocent. After Britain’s Foreign Office expressed concern to Thai authorities about the way the investigation was conducted, British police were allowed to observe the case assembled by their Thai counterparts.
The killings tarnished the image of Thailand’s tourism industry, which has been struggling to recover since the army staged a coup and imposed martial law in May. ■