By Todd Pitman, AP
BANGKOK–Human rights group Amnesty International urged Thailand on Wednesday to investigate allegations that police tortured a pair of suspects who reportedly confessed to killing two British tourists on a southern island last month.
The tourists were found dead on the rocky shores of Koh Tao on Sept. 15, and police last week arrested two migrant workers from neighboring Myanmar who they said had admitted responsibility for the killings. Police deny suspects were tortured, and say they have DNA evidence that backs up the confessions.
The arrests followed weeks of pressure on police to solve a case that dealt the latest blow to Thailand’s tourism industry, which has been struggling to recover since the army staged a coup and imposed martial law in May.
Amnesty cited a lawyer from the Myanmar Embassy’s legal team, who met with the suspects, as saying that one of the migrants “alleged police beat and threatened him with electrocution.”
The group also said that “numerous sources have reported further acts of torture and other cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment of other migrant workers from Myanmar arrested by police in connection with the investigation.
“Thai authorities must initiate an independent, effective and transparent investigation into mounting allegations of torture and other ill-treatment by police,” Amnesty said. “The pressure to be seen to be solving an appalling crime that has garnered considerable attention should not result in the violation of rights, including to a fair trial.”
On Tuesday, Thailand’s National Police Chief Somyot Poompanmoung held a press conference in Bangkok to quash speculation and allegations on social media that his officers had framed the suspects or were seeking scapegoats.
Another officer denied the torture allegations, and on Wednesday Police Lt. Gen. Jaktip Chaijinda, the head of the investigation team, told The Associated Press “there was neither torture, nor threats against the suspects in this case.”
The bodies of Hannah Witheridge, 23, and David Miller, 24 were discovered on a rocky alcove along the shore near a hotel where both were staying, and police say Witheridge was raped. Autopsies showed that Witheridge died from head wounds while Miller suffered severe blows to the head and drowned in the surf. Koh Tao, which is renowned for its quiet beaches and popular diving sites, is 410 kilometers (250 miles) south of Bangkok.
Police have identified the 21-year-old workers from Myanmar’s western Rakhine state as “Win” and “Saw.” Both were detained on the island Thursday and questioned by police who brought them to the crime scene Friday to re-enact their alleged crimes, a standard part of criminal investigations in Thailand.
About 2.5 million people from Myanmar work in this Southeast Asian country, most as domestic servants or in low-skilled manual labor industries like construction, fisheries or the garment sector.