This is an exclusive video of Thai-Myanmar Friendship Basketball Match was organized at Aung San Indoor Stadium in Yangon on May 17, 2015. Myanmar Media 7 Team, organized with Myanmar Model Boys & Actors, played against Thai Yanhee Hospital Team as the opening match.
RANGOON — American retailer Gap Inc. has nearly tripled the output of its two Rangoon factories within its first year, a company spokeswoman told reporters on Thursday.
Gap announced in June last year that it would begin sourcing garments produced in Burma, making it the first US-based clothing manufacturer to enter the country since economic sanctions were eased in 2012.
The South Korea-owned factories produce vests, jackets and pants for Gap’s Old Navy and Banana Republic Factory labels for export to the United States, the European Union and Asia.
“We’re approaching three times as much outerwear [production]… since last year,” Gap’s director of government and public affairs, Debbie Mesloh, told reporters following a US Trade Representative Labor Initiative stakeholder forum.
Mesloh said Gap is trying to “raise the bar” for labor standards at its facilities by ensuring safety and sustainability for its workers.
“We wanted to start small, but do it really well,” Mesloh said.
Last August, the company voluntarily submitted an internal audit to the US Embassy identifying a number of “compliance issues” that needed to be resolved, including excessive work hours and verbal abuse by superiors.
Both of Gap’s Rangoon factories are South Korean-owned and operated, but are expected to satisfy the company’s quality and labor standards.
Mesloh said Gap is working closely with the governments of Burma and the United States, as well as the International Labor Organization (ILO) to eliminate child labor, ensure adequate pay and implement worker education programs, but did not specifically address the issues highlighted in last year’s report.
“There are concrete steps [local stakeholders] need to take, and we feel like we’re playing our part,” Mesloh said, adding that Gap and other Western companies new to Burma’s garment industry have recommended that the government quickly implement a minimum wage.
“When we came in a year ago, the minimum wage law had been enacted but they still hadn’t set a figure, but we were hopeful that it would happen soon,” Mesloh said, adding that Gap is working with partners in a seven-member Business for Social Responsibility stakeholder group, which includes European retailer H&M, to set the wage as soon as possible.
A minimum wage law was passed in March 2013, but setting a wage has been deferred because the Ministry of Labor has yet to conclude a study on workforce size, living standards and household expenses, which begin in late January after a two-year delay.
The Myanmar Trade Union Federation (MTUF), an influential local labor alliance, independently conducted a similar survey in July 2013, recommending that the national minimum wage be set at 7,000 kyats (US$6.30) per day for a household of three people.
A company fact sheet said Gap’s sourcing agreement in Burma has created nearly 700 new jobs, and supports the employment of more than 4,000 people.
Ninety percent of those employees are women, earning roughly $120 per month for 60 hour workweeks, according to the deputy general manager of one of the factories, which have been independently identified as Yangon Pan Pacific International and Myanmar Glogon.
RANGOON — Prominent monks and Buddhist nationalist organizations have joined the chorus of voices to question developments planned for nearly 72 acres of land near Shwedagon Pagoda, days after experts warned the projects could affect the sacred site’s structural integrity.
On the weekend, an assembly of engineers and urban planning experts at the “Save our Shwedagon” forum claimed that excavation works for the five developments risked upsetting the water table underneath Singuttara Hill and potentially damaging the pagoda. The forum, hosted by the Association of Myanmar Architects, called for the adoption of a conservation management plan for the site.
In the days since, Buddhist leaders have gone public with their opposition to the developments. U Parmauka, abbot of Rangoon’s Magwe Priyati Monastery, told The Irrawaddy that monks believed the projects were “disrespectful” to the country’s most revered religious icon.
“Shwedagon Pagoda is for all locals and foreigners of Buddhist faith,” he said. “For the endurance of our religion… I would sacrifice my life to take care of the pagoda. I do not know why the authorities gave away the land near Shwedagon despite how highly it was sought, and I doubt that the authorities have real faith in Buddhism.”
Aung Myaing, a central committee member of the Association for the Protection of Race and Religion (also known as Ma Ba Tha), said that members of his group had urged an investigation into the developments.
“Our organization is worried that if the projects resume, it will affect the foundation of Shwedagon Pagoda,” he said. “They should not proceed and [threats to the pagoda] should be investigated carefully.”
An April 30 statement from Ma Ba Tha also warned that Rangoon’s increasingly crowded skyline risked blocking views of Shwedagon, and excavation work around the pagoda could threaten the strength of the structure.
“Because of overpopulation, exploitative business and unaccountable authorities, people in Rangoon and Bagan are losing their cultural heritage,” the statement read. “In particular, Shwedagon Pagoda faces the risk of losing its cultural heritage. If the culture disappears, the country and the nationality will disappear too.”
The statement said that Rangoon’s Sule Pagoda, which has been overshadowed in recent years by large commercial developments, was an instructive example of overdevelopment, and said that Shwedagon should be spared the same mistake.
The abbot of the Shwe Nya Wah Monastery in Rangoon’s Hmawbi Township told The Irrawaddy that all citizens of Burma should oppose the project, saying that President Thein Sein’s 2011 cancelation of the controversial Myitsone Dam project demonstrated that politicians would respond to sustained public pressure.
“All people who have the Buddhist faith in their hearts should defend Shwedagon,” said Ashin Pyinna Thiha, commonly referred to as Shwe Nya Wah Sayadaw. “The beautiful pagoda is an object of glory and has a long history, so we should oppose any threats to it.”
Marga Landmark, developers of the 22-acre Dagon City 1 mixed-use development near Shwedagon’s southern entrance, said in a May 9 statement that it had reassured the Myanmar Investment Commission that work on the project “will be carried out with the utmost care and due diligence without affecting the foundations of Singuttara Hill and underground water.”
RANGOON — Fully legal trading with Thailand will begin “soon” at an additional border station in southeastern Burma following a boom in overland trade between the two countries, according to a Ministry of Commerce official.
The Mao Tao border trading post in Tenasserim Division has already been operating in a partial capacity, Yan Naing Tun, the ministry’s deputy director general, told The Irrawaddy on Monday. Mao Tao has been accepting imports from Thailand since 2013, but Burmese exports have not been permitted on the Thai side.
Ministry of Commerce officials are in talks with their Thai counterparts to legalize two-way formal trade at the border crossing.
“Actually, we opened that station two years ago, but the Thai side is still working to legalize it, as there are many procedures working with other departments. Both sides’ authorities need to discuss the process further,” he said.
“We’ll announce [the Mao Tao opening] soon publically, after we have had further discussions,” Yan Naing Tun said.
Tenasserim Division already hosts two of Burma’s four formal trading points with Thailand, at Htee Khee and Kawthaung. The other two stations are at Myawaddy and Tachileik in Karen and Shan states, respectively.
Three Pagodas Pass is also viewed as a border crossing with high trade potential, though currently no official commerce between the two countries is transacted there.
Among the operational trade stations, Myawaddy-Mae Sot is the biggest trading point for the two countries, with Burma largely exporting marine products and importing foodstuffs, home appliances, construction materials, automobile parts and agricultural equipment.
Dr. Maung Maung Lay, vice chairman of the Union of Myanmar Federation of Chambers of Commerce and Industry (UMFCCI), said he welcomed more trade linkages with Burma’s two biggest overland trading partners, Thailand and China, but he added that more should be done to curb the rampant black market trading that takes place between the countries.
“For example, there is going to be a lot of informal trading along these borders, because when we’ve checked data from the Myanmar side and Thailand side, they are largely different,” he said.
“What we’re concerned about is that there are many unsuitable food and drink products coming through the borders, and also uncertified home appliances. That’s why more effort should be made to prevent illegal trading along there,” he said.
Though legal overland trade with Thailand has surged in recent years, China remains Burma’s largest trading partner. At Muse in Shan State alone, traded goods totaled more than US$5.1 billion in the 2014-15 fiscal year.
According to Ministry of Commerce data, the border trade between Thailand and Burma has increased nearly 18-fold since 2011-12, when it stood at $24.5 million. Trade rose to $144.8 million in 2012-13, $271.5 million the following year and $432.6 million in 2014-15.
WASHINGTON — The United States says legislation on population control approved by Burma’s Parliament is dangerous and could undermine the democratic hopes of minority groups.
State Department spokesman Jeff Rathke voiced deep concern Tuesday over the bill. He said it could provide a legal basis for discrimination through coercive and uneven application of birth control policies.
Human Rights Watch says the bill directs authorities to impose “birth spacing” restrictions. It would require a 36-month interval between each child and could allow forced contraception, the group said.
The bill is the first of four government-backed bills to “protect race and religion.” Human Rights Watch says the legislation has been championed by activists with a racist and anti-Muslim agenda.
Rathke said women who have spoken out against the bills faced sexual harassment and death threats, demonstrating the “dangerous impact.”
Myanmar is facing international criticism over its treatment of minority Rohingya Muslims who have fled the predominantly Buddhist country, causing a refugee crisis in Southeast Asia.
SITTWE, Arakan State — The boy was shoved onto the wooden vessel with hundreds of other Rohingya Muslims. For days, the 14-year-old sat with his knees bent into his chest, pressed up against sweaty bodies in the cabin’s rancid heat.
Women cradled coughing babies. The crew paced back and forth with belts and iron rods, striking anyone who dared to speak, stand up or even those who vomited from the nauseating stench and rolling waves.
Rohingya have been fleeing persecution in predominantly Buddhist Burma for years, but that was not the central reason Mohammad Tayub ended up on the ship anchored off the coast of western Arakan State two weeks ago.
He said he was simply tricked by brokers, now capitalizing on poverty and a growing sense of desperation.
Two men approached him while he was tending cattle, he said, offering him a job in Malaysia and saying that if he wanted to help earn money for his family, this was his best chance.
They took him to the shore on the back of their motorbike, offering assurances he wouldn’t have to pay for the boat ride. He hoped at least to go home, pack a bag and say goodbye, but by that time, it was already too late.
“I’m never going to see my mother again,” he thought when inside the ship, his body pressed up tightly against strangers on all sides. “I wanted to cry, but I knew I’d be beaten again if I did.”
Tayub had no way of knowing there is little chance of an exit for thousands of Rohingya and Bangladeshis stranded in the sea since a crackdown on human trafficking networks in Thailand earlier this month left the region grappling with a monumental humanitarian crisis. They are growing weaker each day as the navies of three Southeast Asian nations have pushed crowded rickety boats out of their respective waters, each nation fearing that any sign of acceptance could trigger a mass exodus that would swamp its shores.
Survivors say dozens have died and an increasingly alarmed United Nations has warned that the boats could turn into “floating coffins.”
But that has not stopped brokers like the ones who approached Tayub in Burma. All are still eager to earn the US$100 they receive from the ship’s captain for each body delivered regardless of what happens after they leave, according to Maung Maung, a community leader who has researched trafficking in camps in and around Sittwe, the capital of Arakan State.
The captains know they can earn more money — thousands of dollars per person from family members — once they leave the country’s terrestrial waters.
For those trapped inside the vessels until the crew is given the go-ahead to leave, the shore is tantalizingly close, a few hours away by boat.
“I wanted to jump in the water and swim back home,” Tayub said, “but the crew were all armed. I knew they’d shoot me.”
The government claims Burma’s 1.3 million Rohingya are illegal migrants from neighboring Bangladesh, though many of their families arrived generations ago. Denied citizenship, they are effectively stateless and have faced violence and state-sponsored discrimination for decades.
After the country of 50 million started moving from dictatorship to democracy in 2011, newfound freedoms of expression lifted the lid off deep-seated hatred of the dark-skinned religious minority, making them even more vulnerable. Up to 280 Rohingya have been killed since mid-2012, and some 140,000 were chased from their homes by machete-wielding extremist Buddhist mobs. They now live under apartheid-like conditions in camps where they can’t work, get an adequate education or receive medical care.
They have been told there’s little chance they will be allowed to vote in upcoming general elections and that those who cannot prove their families have been in the country since it gained independence from Britain in 1948 could face deportation or indefinite detention in camps.
As result, more than 100,000 Rohingya and neighboring Bangladeshis have fled by boat in the last three years, the biggest exodus of boat people in the region since the Vietnam War, says Chris Lewa of the non-profit advocacy group Arakan Project.
Now it is not just religious and ethnic persecution but abject poverty, desperation and greed within their own communities that have torn the social fabric and driven Rohingya to leave.
Though police, navy and other government officials profit, the brokers themselves are almost all Rohingya.
The Associated Press interviewed nine families whose children have been taken by traffickers. It also interviewed six young victims, several community leaders and a smuggler in Sittwe.
Maung Maung, one of the community leaders, rattled off names of more than a dozen men and women working full time to fill ships with human cargo. Residents were quick to confirm them, saying it’s no longer a secret. The giant wooden vessel that carried Tayub was among five migrant ships bobbing last week in the Bay of Bengal that separates Burma and Bangladesh.
The brokers promise men jobs and offer pretty young girls the prospect of marriage if they agree to board the ships. It may cost them nothing to board, but the migrants are unaware that they will be held hostage in jungle camps or at sea until their poor families somehow come up with enough money to pay their ransom. Activists also say some women end up being sold into prostitution.
Until recently, the first stop for boats leaving the Bay of Bengal was Thailand, long considered a regional trafficking hub. Men, women and children were often held until brokers could collect up to $2,000 from relatives.
Those who could pay continued onward, usually to Malaysia, because the Muslim country faces a shortage of unskilled workers. Those who couldn’t come up with the money were sometimes beaten, killed or left to die. At suspected migrant camps in the mountains of southern Thailand, authorities have unearthed dozens of bodies from shallow graves since May 1. They have also arrested dozens of people, including police, politicians and a suspected trafficking kingpin.
The crackdown, however, had the unintended consequence of spooking agents and brokers, who started holding the migrants offshore in overloaded boats. Fearing arrest, captains abandoned vessels, leaving thousands of men, women and children to fend for themselves on the open ocean.
Off the Burma coast, Tayub and everyone else on the wooden boat seemed destined to meet the even more uncertain fate once the vessel left, though it was unclear to those on board what they were waiting for.
As the number of passengers climbed to about 300, they were convinced the ship would soon set sail and their families would never know what had happened.
Some were able to leave, but only if they could somehow pay the brokers anywhere from $100 to $300 to disembark.
On Tayub’s 12th night on board, he heard a boat pull up and loud voices. He was shocked to hear someone call, “Come out people from the Sittwe area!” He rushed to the deck with 13 other boys and girls, tripping between the bodies and legs of the other tightly packed passengers.
The kids didn’t know it then, but their parents had learned what had happened and paid a local community leader to rescue them. They argued, negotiated, and eventually, after handing over hundreds of dollars, the ship’s broker let them disembark. When they arrived at shore hours later, eyes red from crying and their stomachs concave after days of eating nothing but a few handfuls of rice and slices of potato, they rushed to their parents’ arms.
Some said they knew when their children disappeared that there was only one place they could be: the ships. Every village and camp in the area had stories about missing children or relatives and friends.
“When we left from the ship, the rest of the people were crying and shouting,” Tayub said. “They wanted to go home, too.” Instead, he said, the crew beat them, and shot their guns in the air to shut them up.
In 1871, the local Sangha in Rangoon were seeking assistance in restoring the ‘htidaw’, or ornament, that sat at the top of Shwedagon Pagoda’s spire. They refused to approach the British, who had by this time consolidated their hold on Lower Burma, as they did not recognize the legitimacy of the new occupying power. When King Mindon heard the news from his palace in Mandalay, he sent a new diamond-studded htidaw down the Irrawaddy River by steamer, and it has shone from the top of Singuttara Hill ever since—though the British colonization would prevent the king from ever seeing it with his own eyes.
No other place in Burma rivals the pagoda’s historical, political, religious and cultural significance of Shwedagon. Independence leaders rallied crowds on its grounds. It was the site of Aung San Suu Kyi’s first public speech and it was a sanctuary to those fleeing persecution during the 1988 crackdown. Aung San was buried nearby, while his wife Khin Kyi and former United Nations Secretary-General U Thant were interred in mausoleums near the pagoda’s southern entrance.
In recent times, many have sought to capitalize on Shwedagon’s iconic status for their own ends. It has been the site of rallies organized by hardline Buddhist nationalists. A replica pagoda, Uppatasanti, was built in Naypyidaw to legitimize the relocation of Burma’s capital to the center of the country. The generals of the former military regime infamously sought to absolve themselves of their misdeeds by renovating Shwedagon and other nearby religious monuments.
What the junta gave with one hand, they took away with the other—nearly 52 acres of land next to Shwedagon, owned by the military, was sold to local company Thu Kha Yadanar in 2013 after an auction by the Quartermaster General’s Office, at a reported lifetime cost of US$221 million. That land is now the site of the Dagon City 1 and 2 developments. Three more construction projects in the area spread over a further 20 acres have also been granted approval by the Myanmar Investment Commission (MIC), the Rangoon Division government and the Yangon City Development Committee (YCDC).
Aung Zaw is the founding editor-in-chief of The Irrawaddy.
Aung Zaw is the founding editor-in-chief of The Irrawaddy.
At the end of January, the MIC halted work on the five developments, pending a review by the Myanmar Engineers Society and a committee of the YCDC. The suspension appears to remain in force, but the resulting publicity around the projects has led to an increasing tide of criticism. On Sunday, over 300 people attended a forum about the potential impact of the developments on Shwedagon, listening to testimony from architects, geologists and engineers which warned that the developments could affect the structural integrity of the sacred site.
Developers say they have abided by the law in pursuing these projects, and there is no reason to doubt them: the question is why stricter regulations were not in force to prevent these sorts of developments to begin with.
Numerous critics have expressed concern with the projects blocking the view of Shwedagon. Progress on a draft zoning law that would restrict future development proposals around the pagoda to a height of 62 feet has been stalled for nearly 18 months. Independent experts at Sunday’s forum said that insufficient consideration had been given to the impact of the five developments on the surrounding area. If this proves to be the case, legal change is needed to ensure that future building approvals are contingent upon a comprehensive engineering and environmental analysis, at arms length from decision makers in government.
Above all, the public response to this affair shows that the people of Rangoon want a voice in how their city is developed. Future projects of this magnitude should be thrown open to public consultation and feedback, rather than being the sole prerogative of the YCDC, the divisional government and the MIC. It is the public who are custodians of the pagoda and its history, and they have made their desires clear: they want to keep the horizon that King Mindon never had a chance to cast his eyes upon.
Aung Zaw is the founding editor of The Irrawaddy.
TUAL, Indonesia — When Kyaw Naing arrived at the tiny thatch-and-bamboo shack in Burma, it was empty and the door stood wide open.
He was finally home, after five years of being forced to work as a slave on a fishing boat, but there was no one to greet him. His brother—and only living relative—was gone.
Kyaw Naing, 30, who was kept at one point in a cage on the remote Indonesian island village of Benjina, is among eight migrant fishermen rescued for their safety during an Associated Press investigation into slavery in the seafood industry. Those men are now home, and hundreds more are waiting to be repatriated after the Indonesian government evacuated them to another island following the story’s publication.
The number of former slaves found has risen steadily in the past month to nearly 600, reflecting how widespread and deep-rooted the problem of forced labor is on the boats that bring them from Thailand. Before the first men left to go home this week, more than 360 were gathered on the island of Tual, including some who got word of the rescue and traveled hundreds of miles by boat to join the others. Another 230 Burmese and Cambodians have been identified and are waiting to leave Benjina, while hundreds of Thai nationals still have not been processed there.
In addition, the AP recently found more foreign migrants desperate to go home during a visit to the provincial capital of Ambon. The International Organization for Migration suspects thousands of others are stranded on boats or surrounding islands.
A rescue is what Kyaw Naing hoped for when he agreed to talk on camera through the rusty bars of his cage in November. He said he had been locked up by his Thai captain for asking to go home.
“I was really upset because I didn’t know when I was going to return. When I looked at the sea, all I saw was water—ocean all over. I was hopeless,” he said. “I did the video and volunteered it to let the whole world know.”
Most of the men are from Burma, but some are from Cambodia, Laos and poor parts of Thailand. They were sold, tricked or even kidnapped in Thailand and brought to work in Indonesian waters for little or no pay. They were forced to work up to 24 hours a day with inadequate food and unclean water, and many reported being beaten and denied medical care.
The AP linked their catch to the supply chains of some of America’s biggest food sellers, such as Wal-Mart, Sysco and Kroger, and also to popular brands of canned pet food, including Fancy Feast, Meow Mix and Iams. The companies have all said they strongly condemn labor abuse and are taking steps to prevent it, such as working with human rights groups to hold subcontractors accountable.
On Monday, 59 former slaves from Cambodia became the first to return home there. Sim Chhorn, 69, traveled to the airport from the central part of the county to meet her son.
“I thought in this life, I would not see him again,” she said with a quivering voice before their reunion.
The hundreds of men still waiting at the port in Tual are now free to relax and laugh as they kick a rattan ball over a net in the traditional Burmese game of “chinlone.” Some watch the sunset at dusk or lounge in hammocks listening to Burmese music. Others sit in the cool grass of an open field getting haircuts.
But significant challenges remain, including the cost of feeding them, providing medical care and getting them home.
Repatriation is expensive due to air travel. Australia has already donated more than US$1.6 million, while the United States paid $35,000 for the Cambodians’ flights and has provided another $225,000 to support case workers, health care, food, water and shelter. Burma is planning chartered flights, the first of which is scheduled for Thursday, and the IOM has been coordinating efforts and providing other necessities.
Much more is needed, especially since many of the fishermen were paid little or nothing and are going home penniless. Some have not been in contact with family for years and aren’t sure if relatives have moved or even if they will find them alive.
“The overall response so far is a good first step in tackling human trafficking in the fishing industry that has been allowed to run rampant for far too long,” said Steve Hamilton, deputy chief of mission at the IOM in Indonesia. “But it is only a first step of many that need to follow.”
In the meantime, authorities in Indonesia and Thailand are working to punish those responsible.
On Tuesday, Indonesian police announced the first arrests in the case. Two Indonesian employees of Pusaka Benjina Resources, one of the largest fishing companies in eastern Indonesia, and five Thai captains were taken into custody on charges of human trafficking. Authorities have vowed more arrests will follow, and the country’s Human Rights Commission is investigating.
Meanwhile, Jakarta police said Wednesday that a Fisheries Ministry official from Benjina who was slated to be a key witness had died of a heart attack. The Fisheries minister has launched an internal investigation, and other witnesses have been placed in protection.
Thailand’s prime minister’s office has also said it is probing the Benjina case.
“I am surprised and saddened,” said Burma police Lt. Col. Khin Maung Hla, who visited the Indonesian islands last month to investigate the problem. “I think the Thai companies should be held responsible because they are the ones bringing these people overseas.”
However, Wiriya Sirichaiekawat, vice chair of the National Fisheries Association of Thailand, said that the problems are not representative of the entire Thai fishing industry. He added that he doesn’t believe many of the men from Benjina were unpaid.
“Maybe 1 percent,” he said of the level of labor abuses aboard Thai boats in foreign waters. “Not all of them.”
Kyaw Naing insists he is still owed for years of work on his boat. Now that he’s back home in Burma’s Irrawaddy Delta, he realizes the chances of ever receiving any wages are slim. But for now, he has something better than money.
After waiting for a while at the little hut, his older brother finally returned. Kyaw Naing immediately approached and knelt before him, offering respect according to the country’s Buddhist tradition.
There were no dramatic hugs or tears. But both men smiled as the younger brother told an edited version of his life on the high seas—minus the slavery and despair—and talked about his dream of opening a barber shop in Burma.
“Whether he is rich or poor, I am so happy to see him again,” said Kyaw Oo, who happily opened his family’s 8-foot by 8-foot home to the brother he thought he’d lost. “After all these years, I wondered if he had forgotten me. Or does he still recognize me as a brother? Or is he dead or alive?”
RANGOON— The father of Win Zaw Htun, one of two Burmese suspects in the Koh Tao murder case, passed away early Thursday in Arakan State.
Tun Tun Htike, who was in his 50s, was diagnosed with a brain tumor three months ago at Rangoon General Hospital. He had been receiving treatment at the Pun Hlaing Hospital.
“We just heard the news that he passed away,” said Tin Htoo Aung, chairman of the Arakan National Network. “He went back to Ka Pi Chaung village in Kyaukphyu as his son’s trial was expected to take some time, and died there.”
He added that funeral rites and cremation will be performed today in accord with village custom.
Win Zaw Htun (also known as Wai Phyo) and Zaw Lin, both migrant workers in their early 20s, stand accused of the Sept. 15 murder of two tourists on the island of Koh Tao. The pair remain in custody.
Andy Hall, a labor rights activist involved in efforts to support the pair’s defense team, said that Win Zaw Htun would be notified of his father’s death during a visit at Koh Samui prison tomorrow.
“We are organizing to notify Wai Phyo of this news tomorrow during our regular humanitarian visit program to the accused at the Koh Samui prison, as prison authorities advised us today that family or friends should be the ones to break the news to him during visiting times,” Hall told The Irrawaddy by email.
Win Zaw Htun and Zaw Lin initially confessed to the killings but the pair later renounced their statements, claiming they had been tortured while in custody. Thai police have denied the torture allegations.
On Apr. 30, the Koh Samui District Court has allowed a reexamination of forensic material from the crime scene by Dr Pornthip Rojanasunan, a rights activist, media personality and the chief forensic pathologist at the Thai Ministry of Justice. Dr Pornthip has been critical of aspects of the initial police investigation.
The Migrant Worker Rights Network last week launched an online fundraising campaign to help cover trial costs for the Koh Tao accused, which has so far raised over US$3160 out of a $15,800 goal.
“We expect the case to cost at least $70000, our estimates for basic fair trial needs,” said Hall. “[There has been] no news for some time from the Myanmar embassy or the Myanmar investigation team so we hope to see their increased engagement and support again soon. A lot of assistance was promised by the Myanmar government so we hope they will follow through on those promises.”
The men will return to court on Jul. 8 for an expected 18 day trial, which will conclude in September. A verdict in the case is expected in October.