[Burma] Concern over continuing harassment of editor

Myanmar Now editor Swe Win (centre) and his lawyer talk to a police office to discuss his alleged offences under Article 66(d) of the Telecommunications Act. [Photo: Screen grab from a Facebook Live broadcast of the Irrawaddy.]

The Southeast Asian Press Alliance (SEAPA) expresses deep concern over the continuing threats against an editor in Myanmar, currently facing possible online defamation charges.

Swe Win, who is the chief editor of Myanmar Now news agency, was verbally threatened and almost assaulted by three men at around 9 p.m. on Tuesday, 14 March 2017. He was on his way home from a dinner hosted by the United States ambassador. The men approached him asking “Are you Swe Win?” and tried to punch the editor. He noted that one man took his close-up photo without consent. Swe Win left the scene before any physical attack happened.

The editor filed a complaint against the three men at the Sanchaung Court on 15 March. One of the men was identified through CCTV (closed-circuit television) images attained from the owner of the beer station where the attackers stayed before they met with Swe Win.

The physical threat came after Swe Win was accused on 7 March for violating the country’s notorious Article 66(d) of the Telecommunications Law for sharing a news article on his Facebook account “Ba Kaung.”

Swe Win’s post quoted a sentence from the news article saying that ultra-nationalist monk U Wirathu violated the monastic code of conduct in expressing support for the assassination of National League for Democracy (NLD) legal advisor U Ko Ni. The editor has previously received death threats on social media following his and Myanmar Now’s reporting on the U Ko Ni murder.

 

Swe Win’s 28 February Facebook post that quotes a monk saying “It was known that Wirathu incurred parajika so that his monkhood was over. It might not be only now that he incurred parajika.” The monk was referring to the Third Parajika on committing or encouraging murder, a transgression that can cause automatic disrobing of a Buddhist monk.

Swe Win and his lawyer Khin Maung Myint met with two police officers from Mandalay at the Myanmar Journalists Network (MJN) office on 15 March. Swe Win has asked the authorities to settle his case through the process of the Myanmar Press Council.

During the meeting, Khin Maung Myint also asked the police to suspend the investigations until they can verify that the recent decision of the Sangha Council banning U Wirathu from giving sermons for one year validates the comment that Swe Win shared on Facebook. Furthermore, they pointed out that the Ministry of Religious Affairs and Culture are still in the process of determining further action against the controversial monk.

SEAPA deplores the abuse of laws to curtail freedom of expression in Myanmar, especially its use against journalists who are only doing their work.

Such use of the law against journalists threatens the entire media community and can encourage self-censorship in a country that relies heavily on Facebook to share news and information, SEAPA said.

SEAPA urged the Myanmar Press Council to assert its role in addressing these cases, and the police not to pursue charges against Swe Win and protect him from further harassment.

SEAPA has counted at least four journalists accused under Article 66(d) of the Telecommunications law since the NLD government took over in April last year. [Update, 20 March: The Committee for Amending the Telecommunications Law in Myanmar says that 10 media workers have beeb charged under this law during this same period.]

As of 10 March 2017, Myanmar activists documented 52 cases under Article 66 (d), including only seven from the previous Thein Sein regime.