POST TIME: 5 November, 2018 10:07:11 AM
Thai paradise Koh Tao gains reputation as 'Death Island' for tourists
Independent Online Desk

Thai paradise Koh Tao gains reputation as 'Death Island' for tourists

Promoters call the Thai island of Koh Tao a paradise. Dive resorts boast of its crystal-clear waters, and Western tourists flock to its lively beach bars.

But among some foreigners, Koh Tao has taken on a more sinister reputation. At least nine European tourists have died or disappeared there since 2014. British tabloids began calling it Death Island.

Now, the claim of a 19-year-old British tourist that she was raped on Koh Tao in June has again focused attention on the island’s troubled history and called into question police handling of serious crimes against tourists.

Initially, the police denied that a rape occurred and arrested a dozen people for posting about it on Facebook. The police also issued arrest warrants for an online newspaper editor in Britain and a Facebook page administrator in California.

After opening an investigation and interviewing the young woman in Britain, the police said in October that they had found no evidence to support her claim and closed the case. They said they would reopen the case if new evidence emerged.

The decision disappointed and angered the young woman’s mother, who insists that the 19-year-old is telling the truth. She accused the police of mishandling the investigation and covering up crime on the island.

Thailand, with about 35 million visitors in 2017, is one of the world’s most popular tourist destinations and promotes itself as the “Land of Smiles.” The government, which has been run by a military junta since 2014, is sensitive to criticism that could undermine the country’s reputation.

Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha of Thailand questioned the attire and behaviour of foreign female tourists shortly after the killing of two British backpackers, David Miller and Hannah Witheridge, on Koh Tao in 2014. Witheridge was raped before she was killed.

“They think our country is beautiful and safe and they can do whatever they want, wear bikinis wherever they like,” the prime minister said. “I’m asking, if they waear bikinis in Thailand, will they be safe? Only if they are not beautiful.”

He later apologised, saying that he meant only that foreign visitors should be careful.

But doubts still linger over the conviction of two migrant Burmese workers, Zaw Lin and Win Zaw Htun, for the killings of Witheridge, 23, and Miller, 24, at popular Sairee Beach. A judge found the workers guilty and sentenced them to death despite questions about DNA evidence and the police handling of the case. The men’s supporters say they were framed.The New York Times.