Myanmar police detain journalist ahead of his defamation trial
Police in Myanmar have detained a prominent journalist, accusing him of attempting to flee the country shortly before his trial on defamation charges brought by a follower of a Buddhist monk who has stirred up anti-Muslim hatred. The detention of Swe Win, the editor of the nonprofit online news outlet Myanmar Now, is the latest in a recent series of actions against journalists in the country that rights advocates say violate freedom of expression.
“Swe Win is a principled journalist with a towering reputation for exposing injustice,” Matthew Smith, head of the group Fortify Rights, said in an emailed statement. “This is yet another feeble attempt to criminalize journalism. Journalism is not a crime.” Swe Win was taken by police yesterday to the central city of Mandalay.
His lawyer said he was detained Sunday as he prepared to board a flight to Thailand to make arrangements for the news service’s operations while he is involved with his trial. Kyaw Thu, a Mandalay police officer, said that Swe Win was released on bail and that the court will begin hearing his case on Aug. 7, several days after it had been scheduled earlier. The complaint against him was made by a follower of Wirathu, a Mandalaybased Buddhist monk best known for his provocative speeches about Myanmar’s Muslim minority. An organization led by Wirathu, Ma Ba Tha, has been accused of stirring up sentiment against Muslims, leading to deadly violence.
Swe Win criticized Wirathu on social media, accusing him of violating the Buddhist code of monastic discipline for his comments about the killing of a prominent Muslim lawyer who was a legal adviser to the ruling National League for Democracy. Last week, a court began proceedings against three journalists who have been charged with violating a law that provides up to three years’ imprisonment for people who assist groups that are deemed illegal.