Defamation charges against ‘Myanmar Now’ editor dropped after two years

Swe Win (C) is escorted to a court by police in Mandalay a day after he was detained at Yangon International Airport. Photo: AFP / Stringer
Swe Win (C) is escorted to a court by police in Mandalay a day after he was detained at Yangon International Airport. Photo: AFP / Stringer

Two years after his legal ordeal began, Myanmar Now editor-in-chief Swe Win is no longer facing defamation charges.

The case, which Win has previously said disrupted his “personal, family and professional life,” was dropped yesterday due to issues with witnesses being produced by the plaintiff, a follower of the ultranationalist monk known as Wirathu.

“The judge said the court will not wait for the plaintiff’s witnesses for the future, so it dismissed the lawsuit according to the procedures of the court and the instructions of Chief Justice U Tun Tun Oo,”  his lawyer, Daw Ywat Nu Aung, told journalists outside the courthouse. 

The co-founder and current editor of the bilingual digital news outlet was arrested in 2017 at Yangon International Airport and taken to Mandalay to face defamation charges after a member of the now defunct Ma Ba Tha movement sued him for sharing articles about the controversial Wirathu, now wanted by authorities to face sedition charges. 

He was released on bail shortly thereafter. 

Since then, Win has traveled from Yangon, where he is based, to Mandalay twice a month, more than 50 times in the past two years, he told the Irrawaddy in a January interview. This despite the fact that each hearing typically lasted only a couple of minutes as the witnesses failed to materialize for a variety of reasons such as health or administrative issues

If Win had missed a single hearing, he would have been in violation of the terms of his release and placed back in jail in Mandalay. 

The 780 mile round-trip to Mandalay by car takes about 16 hours, which puts his total mileage over 37,000 miles, all for sharing an article on Facebook critical of Wirathu. 

Win originally faced two defamation charges by Wirathu’s followers in Yangon, but those two lawsuits were quickly dismissed by Yangon courts. At the time, the State Sangha Maha Nayaka Committee, the governing body over the Buddhist clergy, and Myanmar’s religion ministry both recognised Wirathu’s incendiary rhetoric as dangerous and causing “communal strife.” 

In a Human Rights Watch report in January, Win said that while the constant travel had upset his personal life, the lawsuit’s overall impact was far more insidious and damaging. 

“Anyone with common sense knows that I did not violate the law. In any society, a monk who encourages murder would have been arrested. Instead, I have been arrested,” he told the rights group.

“My case has instilled a sense of fear in all news rooms for covering the Buddhist monks and the nationalist movement.”

The Myanmar Now chief actually had a chance to be rid of his legal troubles back in February 2018, but refused to apologize to Wirathu, saying he was a threat to Myanmar’s rule of law. 

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