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Death sentences of Myanmar pair commuted

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Death sentences of Myanmar pair commuted

Royal pardons and sentence reductions include pair convicted in connection with Koh Tao killings

Myanmar migrant workers Zaw Lin and Win Zaw Htun leave the Nonthaburi Provincial Court after hearing the outcome of their final appeal to the Supreme Court at the Nonthaburi Provincial Court on Aug 29, 2019. (Reuters photo)

Two migrant workers from Myanmar on death row for the 2014 murder of two British backpackers on Koh Tao have had their sentences commuted to life in prison under a royal decree.

Zaw Lin and Win Zaw Htun were sentenced to death for the murder of David Miller and the murder and rape of Hannah Witheridge, whose bodies were discovered on a beach on the popular tourist island in Surat Thani in September 2014.

The nation celebrated the 68th birthday of His Majesty the King last month and it is customary for the monarch to grant clemency to mark the occasion. 

According to the Corrections Department, about 40,000 inmates are eligible to be released upon receiving pardons and 200,000 others are to receive reduced sentences.

The sentences of the two Myanmar men will be reduced to life imprisonment under the decree, their lawyer Nakhon Chompuchat told Reuters.

“The two are eligible under a section in the royal pardon decree to get their death sentences reduced to life imprisonment,” he said.

“They will also have a chance to get their sentences reduced further on good behaviour.”

Other high-profile inmates who qualified for reduced sentences include Yongyuth Wichaidit, a former cabinet minister was convicted of allowing the sale of monastic land to make way for a golf course, and Plodprasop Suraswadi, a former deputy premier convicted of abuse of power.

Zaw Lin and Win Zaw Htun were convicted of the Koh Tao killings and sentenced in 2015. The ruling was upheld by an appeal court in 2017 and the Supreme Court in August 2019.

The convictions were mired in controversy, with supporters of the two men arguing that they had been framed and that they had initially confessed to the crimes under duress. The chaotic police investigation, trampling of the crime scene and handling of crucial DNA evidence were also widely criticised.

“I can’t find words to express how thankful we are,” Ye Zaw Tun, a brother of Win Zaw Tun, told AFP on Saturday.

“We knew this case was totally unfair, and we sometimes feel bitterness, but we want to say thanks for the royal pardon.”

The case triggered a strong reaction from Myanmar, where many felt the two men had been given an unfair trial as low-paid migrant workers.

The police were accused of buckling under pressure to solve a crime that attracted worldwide attention.

Defence lawyers claimed authorities mishandled DNA related to the case and did not allow independent analysis of the samples.

Win Zaw Tun’s brother said the men were in good health in prison but called for them to be “immediately released”.

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