Migrants accused of murder of British couple in Thailand recant confessions

This combination of handout images created from undated images received from Britain's Foreign and Commonwealth Office on September 16, 2014 shows British students, Hannah Witheridge (L) and David Miller (R).

Story highlights

  • Burmese migrants who had previously confessed to double murder retract confessions
  • Police had held a press conference the previous day to deny torturing suspects
  • Amnesty International condemns act, calls for independent investigation
The Burmese migrants accused of the murder of two British tourists on the Thai resort island of Koh Tao have retracted their confessions, according to Burmese media.
Following a visit from a consular lawyer, the two men, Zaw Lin and Win Zaw Htun, say that they made their statements admitting to killing David Miller and raping and murdering Hannah Witheridge, under duress.
The two men have been in police custody since October 1 and confessed shortly after that. The murder of the British tourists occurred on September 15.
The bodies were found partially undressed with severe injuries to their heads. A hoe with blood on it was found close by, police said.
Aung Myo Thant, a lawyer attached to the Myanmar embassy, visited the accused and later reported that one of the Burmese migrants had only admitted the crime after being beaten by the police and threatened with electrocution.
Myanmar, a former colony which gained independence from Britain in 1962, is also known by its colonial name, Burma.
Calls to the Thai police force, and the Myanmar embassy in Bangkok, by CNN went unanswered Thursday.
Torture denied
The revelation comes a day after the national police chief held a press conference denying that the police had extracted the confessions through use of torture, the Bangkok Post reported.
The Thai newspaper quoted Aung as saying, ""They told me that they were on the beach that night drinking and singing songs.
"They said they didn't do it, that the Thai police [along with their Myanmar-Thai translator] beat them until they confessed to something they didn't do. They're pleading with the Myanmar government to look into the case and find out the truth. They were a really pitiful sight. Their bodies had all sorts of bruises. I have already reported all that I have seen today to my government."
Amnesty International called upon Thai police to launch a full, independent investigation into reports that the police have been using force to extract information from migrant workers from the neighboring country in connection with the investigation.
Allegations of torture should be investigated independently, and not by the Thai police, Richard Bennett, Amnesty International's Asia-Pacific Program director, told CNN. He also said there were questions of due process that had arisen, specifically the absence of legal counsel prior to the confession, and difficulties with interpretation.
"There is a fairly long-standing record of ill-treatment," in Thailand, he said. "Impunity is also a problem. If the investigation shows ill-treatment, those responsible should pay."
The fact that the suspects are migrant workers, many of whom work in Thailand illegally, makes them more vulnerable, Bennett added.
Calls to the Thai police force, and the Myanmar embassy in Bangkok, by CNN went unanswered Thursday.
Police Commissioner Gen. Somyot Poompanmuang had previously told CNN that DNA in semen taken from Witheridge matched samples taken from the two men.
"The DNA matching result is out already and they matched with DNA found on the female victim," he said.
But Bennett said that regardless of the outcome, and despite the high profile nature of the case, proper procedure should be followed to allow justice to be properly served.
"We don't take a position on their guilt," he said. "It is a horrendous crime, and involved British young people so there is tremendous pressure to get a conviction but this shouldn't be a reason to cut corners."