Swe Win detained over defamation claims

Swe Win, journalist and human rights defender, arrested in Myanmar

Authorities in Myanmar arrested investigative journalist Swe Win at Yangon International Airport as he was preparing to fly to Bangkok on on Sunday night.

The authorities claim that Swe Win may try to evade a criminal defamation charge that was leveled against him earlier this year. Swe Win is the chief editor and correspondent for Myanmar Now, a local news outlet.

He will be transferred to a jail in Mandalay where he is expected to face trial for allegedly defaming Wirathu, a monk known for giving anti-Muslim sermons in Myanmar.

The charge against Swe Win was brought by a supporter of a Buddhist nationalist group known as Ma Ba Tha under section 66(D) of the country’s Telecommunications Law in March of this year.

The journalist had reportedly shared a post on Facebook suggesting that Wirathu had violated the monastic code of conduct by making statements commending the assassination of a well-known Muslim lawyer.

According to Frontier Myanmar, a weekly magazine, the complainant later urged authorities to withdraw the charge against Swe Win.

The publication also reports that religious authorities had “effectively absolved” the reporter on the grounds that the case lacked legal merit. Swe Win’s case is among a number of high-profile criminal defamation claims brought against journalists over the past year.

This is the fourth time in just over a month that a journalist has been detained in Myanmar, which has alarmed press freedom and rights watchdogs in Southeast Asia.

In late June, Myanmar’s military detained seven people, including three journalists and four men who were traveling with them, in the country’s war-torn Shan State under a Unlawful Association Law, claiming they had connections with armed rebels.

In September of last year, Swe Win was awarded the President’s Certificate of Honor for his investigation into years-long abuse of domestic workers at a tailor shop in the country’s biggest city, Yangon.

If convicted of the charge against him, he could face up to three years in prison.