YANGON — The arrest of esteemed investigative reporter Ko Swe Win at Yangon International Airport on Sunday evening temporarily raised the total number of journalists detained in Myanmar for doing their job since June to five.
Out of the five, Ko Swe Win, the chief editor of news agency Myanmar Now, is the only one who is not being sued by the military—instead, a follower of the banned nationalist group Ma Ba Tha is prosecuting him for posting on Facebook an article which criticized ultranationalist monk U Wirathu.
Ko Swe Win has since been granted bail from Maha Aung Myay Township Court in Mandalay, but his four colleagues are still imprisoned.
All of the arrests are directly linked to the work of the reporters, exacerbating fears of a clampdown on independent media and casting serious doubts over whether the country is opening a new chapter on press freedom.
Ko Aye Nai, Senior Reporter
Democratic Voice of Burma
Veteran reporter Ko Aye Nai, 52, has been working for DVB for 11 years, some of them spent in Chiang Mai, Thailand, while the news outlet was in exile. He—along with and three men who drove them through the area—were charged under Article 17(1) of the colonial-era Unlawful Associations Act for contacting the by ethnic armed group the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA) and were placed in detention in Hsipaw prison. They face sentences of up to three years. “We don’t even have a pen sharp enough to be a weapon,” he said at the first court hearing. “We can die any time by stepping on landmines or being shot. We take risks for our work.”
Lawi Weng, Senior Reporter
Since joining The Irrawaddy a decade ago, Lawi Weng, 39, has been at the forefront—and often the frontline—of reporting on ethnic conflicts in Myanmar. In the last year he has reported on the Northern Alliance offensive in northern Shan State and clashes between a Democratic Karen Benevolent Army and the Myanmar Army-aligned Border Guard Force in Kachin State. Last Friday, the judge presiding over the case accepted the bail request and said he would rule at the next court date on Aug. 4.
Ko Pyae Phone Aung, Assistant Broadcast Journalist
Democratic Voice of Burma
The 24-year-old reporter Ko Pyae Phone Aung joined DVB one year ago. The journalists’ first appearance was initially scheduled for July 11, but the reporters were unexpectedly taken on July 7 to the court, where their remand was extended. The reporters were originally arrested on June 26 in Namhsan on their way back from covering a drug-burning ceremony held by the TNLA to mark the United Nations’ International Day Against Drug Abuse.
Ko Swe Win, Chief Editor
Former political prisoner Ko Swe Win, 39, was a senior reporter for The Irrawaddy from 2010-2012. Last year he was honored by the government for his reporting on the abuse suffered by two child maids in a Yangon tailor shop. He was charged Article 66(d) after Mandalay resident U Kyaw Myo Shwe, a follower of ultranationalist monk U Wirathu, claimed the chief correspondent insulted the monk in a Facebook post. Ko Swe Win faced a second lawsuit later in March for comments made at a press conference concerning the Article 66(d) charge. In March, the journalist was threatened by three unidentified men.
U Kyaw Min Swe, Chief Editor
The Voice Daily & Weekly
U Kyaw Min Swe, 47, has worked for The Voice Daily for 18 years and is currently chief editor. He was arrested along with satire columnist Ko Kyaw Zwa Naing after the Myanmar language publication printed an article which questioned the country’s armed struggle and peace process. The pair were charged both under Article 66(d) of the Telecommunications Act and then Article 25(b) of the Media Law after Lt-Col Lin Tun of the Myanmar Army filed a suit against them at the Bahan Township police station on May 17. Ko Kyaw Zwa Naing was later released.