Migrants jailed for murdering British tourists in Thailand taken off death row

15 August 2020, 13:40

Hannah Witheridge, 23, and David Miller, 24, were murdered on a Thai holiday island
Hannah Witheridge, 23, and David Miller, 24, were murdered on a Thai holiday island. Picture: PA

By Ewan Somerville

A pair of migrant workers convicted of murdering two young British tourists at a Thailand holiday hotspot have had their death sentences reduced to life imprisonment.

Zaw Lin and Win Zaw Htun, from Burma, were sentenced to death in 2015 for killing David Miller, 23, and killing and raping Hannah Witheridge, 24.

The British holidaymakers were found dead on a beach on Koh Tao island, in the Gulf of Thailand, a year earlier. 

The convicts were taken off death row under a sweeping clemency decree issued by King Maha Vajiralongkorn to mark his 68th birthday, their lawyer, Nadthasiri Bergman, confirmed.

The decree, which appeared to cover thousands of prisoners, took effect on Friday with publication in the Royal Gazette.

The high-profile case caused extensive controversy because of allegations that police mishandled evidence and beat the suspects into making confessions.

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Myanmar migrants Win Zaw Htun, right, and Zaw Lin, left, in court in 2015
Myanmar migrants Win Zaw Htun, right, and Zaw Lin, left, in court in 2015. Picture: AP

It was rumoured that detectives were under pressure to solve the case rapidly to avoid ravaging Thailand's lucrative tourist industry.

A well-known Thai forensics expert testified that DNA evidence central to the prosecution case did not link Lin and Phyo to the scene, and Human Rights Watch called the guilty verdict "profoundly disturbing".

The country's Supreme Court upheld their murder convictions and sentences last year, dismissing allegations of physical mistreatment and mishandling of forensic evidence and finding no proof of torture.

The death penalty is rarely carried out in Thailand.