Supporters of two Myanmar migrant workers sentenced to death for the 2015 murder of two British backpackers argue the duo confessed under duress. Activists say the case highlights the widespread maltreatment of migrant workers by Thai authorities. (Photo: AFP)
A Thai policeman has been charged with raping a migrant worker from Myanmar in a police station’s jail on the island resort of Koh Samui in an incident that has shocked many Thais.
The sergeant major was arrested after the family of the 21-year-old woman filed a complaint with police that the officer had taken her out of a holding cell at a police station and proceeded to assault her sexually in his office on Jan. 13.
The family also contacted the Myanmar embassy in Bangkok seeking help.
CCTV footage recorded at the station shows the policeman taking the woman from a cell, which appears to corroborate the allegations.
The woman was being held in custody on drug-related charges and was about to be deported to Myanmar when the assault happened.
The policeman has since been discharged from the force and is on bail while the woman remained in custody with police saying they needed to question her further.
Numerous Thais and other commenters have expressed outrage at what they see as the lenient treatment of the alleged rapist and the harsh treatment of his accuser.
“She is in jail while he is free. Disgraceful,” one woman noted poignantly in a comment on social media.
Police officers in Thailand are routinely suspected of abusing and exploiting migrant workers who have few rights in the country.
Several migrant workers from Myanmar are alleged by rights activists to have been sentenced in recent years to prison as scapegoats for crimes committed by locals.
In 2015, two migrant workers from Myanmar were condemned to death for the murder of two British backpackers on the small island of Koh Tao, near Koh Samui. Their sentence was commuted to life in prison last year.
Supporters of the two men accused Thai authorities of having framed the two migrant workers who, they said, had confessed to the murders under duress. They also questioned the quality and veracity of DNA and other evidence introduced by Thai police.
Rights activists said the case highlighted the widespread maltreatment of migrant workers at the hands of Thai authorities.
“It is deeply disturbing that this case came to trial without an independent investigation of the two Burmese men’s claims that they were tortured by police into confessing,” said Champa Patel, Amnesty International’s director for Southeast Asia and the Pacific.
“It’s also important to remember that this case is just the tip of the iceberg — torture in detention in Thailand is rife. It is high time for Thai authorities to make a genuine effort to stamp out this abhorrent practice.”
Migrant workers are often at the mercy of their employers and the authorities in Thailand, argues Andy Hall, a prominent migrant rights advocate from Britain.
“These workers regularly face systematic rights violations including payment below the national minimum wage of 300 baht (US$10) a day and 56 baht an hour for overtime; and working seven days a week without leave, no paid annual leave and no benefits on public holidays. Employers often ignore compulsory social protection and health schemes,” Hall said.