BANGKOK — One night, two years ago tomorrow, Zaw Lin and his friend Wai Phyo were playing guitar and drinking beer on a beach. Today they are locked up in Thailand’s most notorious prison for a crime they say they didn’t commit. “I miss home. Too much. Sometimes I [go] crazy,” Zaw Lin, 22, said Monday during visiting hours at Bang Kwang Central Prison on Monday. “If I killed anyone, I stay here. Why am I here? I think about that all the time.” Two years ago, Woraphan Toovichien said, his family was respected and well-liked on Koh Tao, but that changed after many on social media accused his relatives of being responsible for killing two British backpackers on the island and covering up the murders. “People already judged my family as guilty. My family has suffered so much … my family is in ruins,” said Woraphan, 51, who works as a local administrator on the small, comma-shaped island about 80 kilometers off the coast of Chumphon province. It’s been two years since David Miller and Hannah Witheridge were found dead on a beach on Koh Tao in the early morning of Sept. 15, 2014. But both sides tangled in the murders that became an international sensation said they still felt injustice; one from a deeply flawed legal system, and the other from internet witch-hunting and uncritical reporting.
On Christmas Eve 2015, Zaw Lin and Wai Phyo were convicted of killing the two Britons. They were also found guilty of raping Witheridge before she died. For their crimes, the two Burmese men were sentenced to death. They’re now held on death row at Bang Kwang Central Prison, aka the Bangkok Hilton, awaiting appeal proceedings. Inside the Tiger Drive toward Bang Kwang Prison from the north and the first thing to see are paint-peeled guard turrets jutting over walls topped with electrified barbed wire. Most of the prisoners here are condemned to life behind bars or death for serious offenses like premeditated murder, armed robbery and kidnapping. Citing security concerns, the prison only allows inmate visits from close relatives and those with the same surnames. Friends are turned away. Reporters have to get permission directly from the warden to interview・“Oh, the two Burmese scapegoats?” one of the prison guards said upon reading the visitation document. Several more forms and stamps later, I’m led through the last of three large metal gates that separate Bang Kwang Prison from the outside world.