Police image taints ruling
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Police image taints ruling

As expected, the Royal Thai Police Bureau has closed ranks to strongly defend their investigation work that convinced the Samui Provincial Court to find two Myanmar migrant workers guilty over the murders of two British tourists in September last year and put them on death row.

From national to local police chiefs, both former and current, they all insist investigators in the case made their best efforts under the law to bring the two Myanmar culprits, namely Zaw Lin and Win Zaw Htun, to justice. They insisted that DNA evidence in the investigation was key to concluding the guilt of the two migrants.

They say the two men, both 22, were treated fairly by the police; their lawyers were present when they were questioned and they were never tortured into confessing.

In court, the judges did not take the defendants' confessions during their interrogation into consideration, but they were convinced by the laboratory results presented by the police, according to a statement by the Courts of Justice.

However, many questions still surround the case. Why is there a big question mark over the credibility of this trial? Why are the foreign media seemingly not convinced about the legitimacy of this case? Why do many people in Thailand still believe the two Myanmar migrants are scapegoats? Why have there been escalating protests across Myanmar concerning this case?

The answers lie in the police having a poor image. Stereotypes of police beating up suspects, making people scapegoats, taking bribes to turn a blind eye to wrongdoings, and extorting money from illegal migrant workers are entrenched in many people's minds -- and often appear to be true.

These are all the right ingredients to have stirred up resentment and outrage among citizens across Myanmar, leading them to take to the streets and call for justice for their two compatriots. The rallies that started in Yangon following the Dec 24 ruling prompted the closure of the Thai embassy in the former capital over security concerns. They also made the Thai government suspect foul play by its political opponents, in other words Thaksin Shinawatra and his supporters.  

Deputy police spokesman Pol Maj Gen Piyaphan Pingmuang said during a Sunday news conference there were criminal prosecutions in 126 murder cases involving Myanmar people in Thailand over the past year, but there were no protests against them, adding some groups had tried to instigate protests this time for their own political gain.

Pol Maj Gen Piyaphan may have a point, but other criminal cases did not involve tourists from the developed world. In the Koh Tao case, suspicions exist that the poor, powerless Myanmar migrants were made scapegoats in exchange for the freedom of local influential people. That is the credibility issue facing the Thai police.

Another murder case involving Myanmar migrant suspects was brought to the media's attention on Sunday. Four Myanmar migrant workers aged 18-25 arrested over the murder of a 17-year-old female student in September claim they were tortured into confessing by Ranong police.

According to interviews with the suspects' relatives and lawyers, the four were tortured on the days they were arrested between Oct 20-24. The alleged abuse included being blindfolded, threatened with a gun, suffocated with a plastic bag and kicked in the genitals. Police deny the torture accusations.

Instead of ordering the police to find the alleged Thai masterminds of the rallies in Myanmar, Gen Prawit Wongsuwon, deputy premier in charge of national security, should order the Royal Thai Police Bureau to reform its work, adopt an investigation procedure that respects the rights of the accused and weed out the bad cops -- a process that will take strong political will to materialise.


Bangkok Post editorial column

These editorials represent Bangkok Post thoughts about current issues and situations.

Email : anchaleek@bangkokpost.co.th

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