The accused claim they are scapegoats and face a possible death sentence if convicted
A Thai court has heard that the interpreters used to record the confessions of two Burmese men accused of murdering a pair of British backpackers last year were in fact pancake hawkers who did not properly understand Thai or the suspects’ native Burmese dialect.
Wai Phyo and Zaw Lin, both 22, stand accused of the murder of David Miller, 24, and the rape and murder of Hannah Witheridge, 23, on the Thai Gulf island of Koh Tao. The victims’ bloodied corpses were discovered in the early hours of Sept. 15 on popular Sairee Beach just yards from their guesthouse.
The suspects, both ethnic Rakhine from Burma’s restive western Arakan state, were working on Koh Tao at the time, and admitted to the double murder during interrogation. However, they soon recanted and claimed they were tortured into confessing.
On Thursday, Samui Central Court heard that two Rohingya Muslims — an ethnicity currently engaged in a bitter sectarian feud with the Rakhine — were employed as interpreters during their interrogation. However, they only had rudimentary understanding of Thai and the Rakhine language, reports the Myanmar Times.
One of the translators, named Ko Ye, admitted to the defense team that he signed a statement confirming what was said during the interrogation even though it was written in the Thai language, which he could not read.
Speaking to TIME in Koh Samui prison prior to the trial, Wai Phyo said the translator accused him of being party to mob violence against Rohingya in their homeland. “He asked me: ‘When the riots started in Burma, where were you? Did you burn down my village?’” said Wai Phyo.
The case continues.