Anonymous hacks Thai police websites over death sentences

Activists call for 'justice' for 'scapegoated' migrant pair convicted of the murders of two British backpackers

David Miller, Hannah Witheridge

Cyber-activist group Anonymous says it has successfully hacked Thai police websites in protest over last month's death sentences delivered on two Burmese men for the murders of two British backpackers.

The group claimed responsibility for breaking into at least 14 websites after releasing a 37-minute video accusing Thai authorities of scapegoating the two men, who were convicted of the 2014 killings on the holiday island of Koh Tao.

Migrant bar workers Zaw Lin and Wai Phyo, both 22, were given the death sentence in December for the rape and murder of Hannah Witheridge, 23, from Norfolk, and the murder of 24-year-old David Miller, from Jersey.

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They initially confessed to the attacks but later retracted their statements, saying they had been given under torture. The police have also been accused of mishandling crucial DNA evidence.

Calling for visitors to boycott Thailand, Anonymous said the Thai police "would rather blame foreigners or migrants for such crimes so as to protect their tourism industry than accuse their own Thai locals, that may deter tourists from choosing Thailand as their holiday destination".

Human rights groups say migrants from Burma have previously been wrongly accused of crimes in Thailand. But the Thai police and ruling junta have denied the allegations and stand by their investigation.

A Thai police spokesman said the perpetrators of the cyber-attacks will be hunted down. "Even if the source of attack was from abroad, they will be convicted eventually," he said. "It's not a problem. Thai police are excellent."

Burmese men guilty of UK tourist murders in Thailand

24 December

Two Burmese men have been found guilty of murdering a pair of British tourists found dead on a beach in Thailand last year.

The bodies of backpackers Hannah Witheridge, 23, and 24-year-old David Miller, were discovered on Koh Tao island, a popular beauty spot, in September 2014. They had been bludgeoned to death with a blunt object, thought to be a garden hoe. Witheridge had also been raped during the attack.

Two workers from a nearby bar, both migrants from Myanmar, were arrested and charged with the murders. DNA recovered from the scene matched that of Zaw Lin and Wai Phyo, prosecutors claimed, although the defence argued that DNA from the alleged murder weapon did not match either of the accused.

Myanmar nationals Zaw Lin (L) and Win Zaw Tun (centre R) are escorted out of the Koh Samui provincial court following their death sentence in Koh Samui on December 24, 2015. The Thai court on

(Image credit: AFP/Getty Images)

Nevertheless, three Thai judges found the pair guilty of the murders and sentenced them to death by lethal injection. Thailand has not executed anyone since 2009, according to Death Penalty Worldwide, although more than 600 prisoners are currently on the country's death row.

Concerns have been raised about the case against Lin and Phyo, who say they were bullied into making a false confession. Burmese migrants in Thailand have complained of mistreatment at the hands of the Thai authorities, and the activist group which represented the men in court says their confessions were part of the "systematic abuse" of migrants in the country.

Andy Hall, speaking on behalf of the Migrant Worker Rights Network, said that the group "strongly disagrees" with the court's decision and intends to launch an appeal.

"The defence team have had access to all the information in this case and the information we saw did not comply with international standards," Hall said in a statement.

The family of Hannah Witheridge, who was from Norfolk and had been studying speech therapy, told the media that they needed "to digest the outcome of the trial verdict". Victim David Miller's brother Michael said that his family were satisfied with the quality of the Thai investigation, which he called "methodical and thorough".

"Justice is what has been delivered today", he told the BBC.

DNA 'does not match Thai beach murder suspects'

11 September

Crucial DNA evidence does not match that of the two men accused of killing two British backpackers in Thailand, reports Sky News.

A forensic expert says DNA found on the garden hoe allegedly used to kill Hannah Witheridge and David Miller is not that of Burmese bar workers Zaw Lin and Wei Phyo who were accused of the murders.

The head of Thailand's central forensics institute told the court that two profiles were found on the hoe – one a full sample, the other a partial sample – but that neither matched the defendants' DNA. Police, however, say that DNA on the victims' bodies matches that of the accused.

The trial, on the island of Koh Samui, also heard that officers treated the murder scene inappropriately. Blood traces were not tested and at least one of the bodies was moved – potentially destroying evidence, said Dr Pornthip Rojanasunand. She also complained that not enough photos were taken to allow for a proper analysis of the scene.

Sky News's Asia correspondent Katie Stallard said: "You have this pretty extraordinary situation going on in court today where the head of Thailand's forensics institute is effectively contradicting the case of the Royal Thai Police."

The bodies of the two British tourists were found on a beach on the holiday island of Koh Tao last September. Witheridge, 23, from Norfolk, had been raped and beaten, while Miller, 24, from Jersey, drowned in the sea after being clubbed around the head.

Both suspects have pleaded not guilty and claim police threatened to kill them.

Thai beach murders: suspect says police tortured him

03 September

One of two Burmese men accused of murdering British backpackers David Miller and Hannah Witheridge last year in Thailand has told a court that police beat a confession out of him. Zaw Lin said he admitted the killing because he had been tortured and feared for his life.

Miller and Witheridge, who did not know each other before meeting on holiday, were bludgeoned to death on a beach on the resort island of Koh Tao on 15 September, 2014. Witheridge had been raped by at least two men.

Charged the next month, Lin and his co-accused Wei Phyo at first admitted the murders and rape, but later retracted their confessions. Now Lin's claims of torture by police have put Thai justice in the dock, says the Daily Telegraph.

Lin admitted to the court that after he finished work on the evening of the murders, he went drinking with Phyo at the beach where the murders took place. The prosecution argues that the men killed the backpackers when they found them having sex there.

The two young Britons - Miller was 24 and Witheridge was 23 - were not a couple and no evidence has been presented to the court that they were having sex when they were attacked.

Manacled and wearing a brown tunic, the 22-year-old Lin told the court he had been stripped naked by police, had a plastic bag placed over his head and was asked repeatedly: "Did you kill or not?"

He claimed he was blindfolded, beaten and told he would be killed and his body dumped at sea if he did not confess. He said: "They told me ‘if you confess, you'll just go to prison for four or five years."

He was watched by Miller's parents, who were in the court, and by Witheridge's family via a video-link from the UK.

Lin's co-accused, also 22, is expected to make the same torture claim when he gives evidence tomorrow.

Kingsley Abbott of the International Commission of Jurists said the claims should be investigated under Thailand's international torture convention obligations.

The Telegraph points out that Thailand's new military rulers were "desperate to declare the case solved and reassure tourists that Thailand was safe" at the time that Lin and Phyo were arrested.

Concerns were raised even before the arrests when Thai authorities said they were sure the murders had been committed by foreigners. Lin and Phyo are Burmese economic migrants.

British backpackers' murder trial begins with DNA confusion

9 July

The trial of two men accused of murdering British backpackers Hannah Witheridge and David Miller in Thailand last September has begun with confusion about DNA evidence.

The pair were killed on the holiday island of Koh Tao on 15 September. Witheridge, 23, from Norfolk, was raped and beaten, according to prosecutors, while Miller, 24, from Jersey, drowned in the sea after suffering head injuries.

Two Burmese men, Win Zaw Htun and Zaw Lin, both 22, are accused of the murders. Police claim that DNA at the scene matched the pair, who were working illegally on the island, and that the two men confessed after being arrested.

But Htun and Lin have since retracted their confessions, claiming they had been forced to admit guilt by interrogators who abused and threatened them. Thai police deny any wrongdoing, although now appear to be struggling to provide the DNA evidence.

The defence claims the men have been scapegoated by police who were under pressure to find the foreign backpackers' killers.

The families of both victims have travelled to the island of Koh Samui to hear the trial.

Here's what we have heard so far:

Crime scene described to court

Lt Jakrapan Kaewkao, a police officer among the first on the crime scene, was the first prosecution witness in the trial on Wednesday. He told the court: "I found a man's body lying on the beach with seawater lapping his body. Then I found the woman's body behind the rocks." The nearly naked bodies were found several metres apart and both showed signs of physical assault. Witheridge appeared to have been sexually assaulted, he said. The defence questioned why it took so long for police to seal off the area and call a medic. Kaewkao also admitted he had moved Miller's body because he was concerned it would float away in the water.

Confusion over DNA evidence

Another prosecution witness, Police Lieutenant Colonel Somsak Nurod, appeared in court today to present a list of evidence exhibits. This included the alleged murder weapon – a garden hoe. The defence was expected to ask for DNA evidence from the crime scene to be independently re-examined. However, Nurod appeared confused when asked to provide forensic evidence, says The Guardian. He told the judge the samples – collected from sperm and a cigarette found at the scene – may have been destroyed. He left the court to recheck what other evidence was available.

Thai court charges two over British tourists' murder

04 December

Two Burmese men have been charged with the murder of British tourists Hannah Witheridge and David Miller in Thailand.

Migrant workers Zaw Lin and Win Zaw Htun, both 21, are accused of killing Witheridge and Miller on the island of Koh Tao in September. The two men are also accused of raping Witheridge. If found guilty, Zaw and Win could face the death penalty.

The bodies of Miller, 24, from Jersey, and Witheridge, 23, from Great Yarmouth in Norfolk, were found on a beach on the holiday island of Koh Tao. Post-mortem examinations found Miller died from drowning and a blow to the head, while Witheridge died from head wounds.

The two suspects were first announced as suspects and paraded in front of cameras in October. However, their alleged confessions were later withdrawn as the men claimed they were obtained under torture.

A lawyer for the suspects has urged friends of the victims to come forward with information. Nakhon Chompuchat said the victims' friends "should know many things" about what happened.

In an investigation plagued by accusations of incompetence, the public prosecutor has sent the police dossier back three times asking for better evidence. He now says the case against the accused is solid.

However, Thai police continue to be criticised for their handling of the case, and Zaw's mother maintains that her son is being made a "scapegoat", reports the BBC.

UK police to prepare report on Thailand murders

11 November

Officers from the Met police who flew to Thailand last month to work with Thai police investigating the murders of two British holidaymakers are about to return home and update relatives of the victims, the BBC says.

The British detectives will compile a report after reviewing the Thai investigation into the deaths of Hannah Witheridge and David Miller, whose bodies were found on a beach in Koh Tao on 15 September this year.

A Met police spokesman said: "Detectives from the UK who are currently in Thailand reviewing the investigation into the murders of Hannah Witheridge and David Miller have completed their work, as far as possible."

He added: "They will now be returning to the UK to compile their report and to update the families of Hannah and David on their findings. The police team wish to thank the Thai authorities for facilitating the visit."

Thailand at first refused offers of assistance from the UK but after David Cameron met the Thai prime minister General Prayuth Chan-ocha at a summit in Italy, it was arranged that Met officers could work alongside local police.

Two migrant workers from Burma, Zaw Lin and Win Zaw Htun, have been charged with murder and rape after allegedly confessing to the killings. Thai police have denied reports that they subsequently withdrew their confessions.

The Foreign Office last month summoned a Thai diplomat and expressed concerns about the investigation including allegations the suspects, both 21, had been mistreated and that DNA evidence had not been verified.

Last week, a lawyer for the suspects alleged that they had been tortured by Thai police, the International Business Times reported.

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