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In the crosshairs of conscience: John Kitzhaber's death penalty reckoning

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To cope with his dread, John Kitzhaber opened his leather-bound journal and began to write.
It was a little past 9 on the morning of Nov. 22, 2011. Gary Haugen had dropped his appeals. A Marion County judge had signed the murderer's death warrant, leaving Kitzhaber, a former emergency room doctor, to decide Haugen's fate. The 49-year-old would soon die by lethal injection if the governor didn't intervene.
Kitzhaber was exhausted, having been unable to sleep the night before, but he needed to call the families of Haugen's victims.
"I know my decision will delay the closure they need and deserve," he wrote.
The son of University of Oregon English professors, Kitzhaber began writing each day in his journal in the early 1970s. The practice helped him organize his thoughts and, on that particular morning, gather his courage.
Kitzhaber first dialed the widow of David Polin, an inmate Haugen beat and stabbed to death in 2003 while already serving a life sentence fo…

Documentary raises new questions about Koh Tao murder, Myanmar migrants

Koh Tao Island has long been an ideal destination for backpackers, avid divers and more increasingly Myanmar migrant workers. Located some 400km away from Bangkok, the small island has earned a reputation of being the best spot for viewing sea turtles, whale sharks and other wildlife.

But in the past decade the island has become synonymous with a series of crimes, particularly the brutal murders of British backpackers, Hannah Witheridge and David Miller who were found dead on Sairee beach in September 2014.

2 Myanmar migrant workers, Win Zaw Tun and Zaw Lin were arrested and given the death penalty for the murders shortly after the bodies were found. However, Myanmar authorities and human rights leaders called for an appeal against the case, as the 2 men have insisted their innocence.

Following a spate of protests over human rights abuses within Thai prisons and from the Thai police, a committee of Myanmar lawyers, migrant workers and human rights CSOs came together to conduct an independent investigation.

Such is the backdrop for the newest documentary following the case. Echo from Koh Tao Island was screened for the 1st time in Yangon's Orchid Hotel on May 12, following a press conference.

Lawyers and migrants rights groups sent an appeal against the case in December 2015 which was rejected just three months ago when Thai authorities confirmed the death sentence for the 2 men. On March 3 a group of Myanmar authorities tried to meet with the Thai Ambassador to try to appeal once more.

According to the Associated Press, the appeal deadline has been extended to May 23, 2017. Though Echo from Koh Tao Island comes 3 years after the crime, the film raises questions about tourism, migration and international law as the case has still yet to have an end.

The 30 minute documentary was created by the Special Investigative committee on the Koh Tao case to show to Myanmar parliament MPs.

U Htoo Chit, a member of the Special Investigative committee and CEO of an education and development foundation for Myanmar migrants said, "The main reason for creating this documentary was to lay down the facts and ask for fairness, peace and justice and to stop extremists who add fire to the crisis."

He continued, "Extremists make the crisis even greater," referencing a growing tension between Myanmar and Thailand as more and more Myanmar migrants cross the border in search of work.

Myanmar migrants Win Zaw Htun, right, and Zaw Lin
Myanmar migrants Win Zaw Htun, right, and Zaw Lin.
"The extremists are separately making a crisis out of the Koh Tao case. We have to ask peacefully to search for the truth. We do not want to create more tensions," he said.

Some migrant rights advocates have argued that there may have been discrepancies in the case's evidence and CCTV records as well as potential discrimination on the part of the Thai policemen and judge.

Moe Wai, a member of the Special Investigations committee and organiser for Myanmar migrants in Thailand believed the judges may have had implicit bias when deciding the sentencing.

"The judge may decide using his personal opinions but it is best to solve this with professional standards. We, ordinary people, cannot become involved nor have a sway in the system of law and order."

An MP in the documentary was quoted saying, "government, a jury and experts should jointly participate in this issue by pressing for checks and balances and asking for the truth."

Family members of Win Zaw Tun and Zaw Lin have pleaded in the film, "We want our sons back...we're their parents and we want the truth."

The committee has asked the local broadcasting department to screen Echo from Koh Tao Island free on the air but the broadcasting department has yet to reply. According to an authority from the committee, plans are underway to broadcast the film online.

Source: The Myanmar Times, May 17, 2017

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