Myanmar Times founder nabbed in drug bust

Australia’s Ross Dunkley, co-founder of the Myanmar Times, leaves the Kamaryut township court after his final hearing, in Yangon on June 30, 2011. / AFP PHOTO/Soe Than WIN /

Myanmar Times founder and former chief editor Ross Dunkley was arrested by Yangon police at his rented Bahan Township home early yesterday morning and charged with three violations of Myanmar’s anti-drug law.

According to Police Major Thein Win, Dunkley was found in possession on 797 yaba pills and 303 grams of crystal methamphetamine. If found guilty under sections 19(a), 20(a), and 21(a) of the 1993 Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances Law, the Australian national could end up with a prison term ranging from 15 years to life. Section 20(a) even carries the possibility of capital punishment, though Myanmar has not carried out a legal execution in decades.

Also arrested were seven Myanmar women and another foreign man identified as John McKenzie, an IFC/World Bank veteran who is reportedly Dunkley’s partner in Beyond the Box Communications, which Dunkley has previously described as a 24-hour, Burmese-language streaming service, plus a printing factory, events company, and e-commerce platform. Beyond the Box Communications was last reported to have been courting investors.

Ross Dunkley, John McKenzie
Ross Dunkley, John McKenzie, and seven Myanmar women pose with drug paraphernalia after their arrest by Yangon police on June 7, 2018.

Between 2000 and 2005, Dunkley co-owned the Myanmar Times with Sonny Swe, who would years later go on to set up the magazine Frontier Myanmar. When Sonny Swe was sentenced to more than a decade in prison for violating Myanmar’s censorship laws in 2005, Dunkley was forced to accept a series of government-chosen co-owners before selling his stake to banking entrepreneur Pepsi Thein Tun in 2014, after which he took a break from publishing in Myanmar for several years.

Dunkley was also a co-owner of the Phnom Penh Post between 2007 and 2013. This year, the Post was sold to a Malaysia-based PR executive, a move widely seen as the end of that paper’s 25-plus years of editorial independence.

Before Thursday’s arrest, Dunkley had been arrested in 2011 for allegedly drugging and assaulting a woman reported to have been a sex worker in a Yangon nightclub. He spent 47 days in jail, completing his month-long sentence with time served. The Committee to Protect Journalism characterized the case as “arbitrary harassment” and an assault on the free press.

Dunkley described his imprisonment to MediaWeek in Oct. 2017, saying: “Once inside, I only held thoughts that I would soon be out. I should have been extremely concerned and thinking I could be jailed for 10 years or more easily with charges of administering drugs, kidnapping, and bashing a woman, plus immigration offenses. But, as I hadn’t done any of the above, I slept soundly.”

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