Jailed Myanmar Now Editor Released on Bail

By Zarni Mann 31 July 2017

MANDALAY – A court in Mandalay Division’s Maha Aung Myay Township released the detained chief editor of Myanmar Now, Ko Swe Win, on bail on Monday.

The editor signed a statement in front of the judge committing to be present at all court hearings in the defamation case, filed under Article 66(d) of the Telecommunications Law by Mandalay resident U Kyaw Myo Shwe in March, who accused Ko Swe Win of insulting ultranationalist monk U Wirathu.

“We’ve submitted the appeal for bail and the court accepted it. Two locals have paid 5 million kyats worth of bail money for Ko Swe Win. The next court hearing will be on August 7,” said U Khin Maung Myint, Ko Swe Win’s legal advisor.

The granting of bail was initially opposed by the plaintiff’s lawyer, saying lawsuits filed under Article 66(d) call for remand.

U Khin Maung Myint countered by highlighting Ko Swe Win’s position as a journalist, and pointing out that he has no intention of fleeing from the law.

After the court session, Ko Swe Win told media he wondered why the police brought him to court four months after the filing of the case; he was arrested after arriving at the Yangon airport on Sunday and was transported to Mandalay, where he was detained.

“The surprise arrest by the police at the airport is a misunderstanding. I have not been restricted from traveling since the lawsuit was filed against me. And I have no intention of fleeing,” Ko Swe Win said.

“I’ve traveled to the border areas many times to cover the news and I’ve cooperated with the police several times for my lawsuit. If I wanted to flee, I could have fled the country at any point since the beginning [of the case],” he added. “I will certainly face this lawsuit according to the law.”

Buddhist nationalists also attended Ko Swe Win’s court hearing on Monday. When the Myanmar Now chief editor exited the courthouse after being released on bail, around ten nationalist Buddhist monks gathered in front of the building, shouting at journalists as they spoke to him.

Ko Swe Win later told The Irrawaddy that the country’s instability during the political transition has affected freedom of expression in the country.

“Detained journalists are being treated like criminals. Our fellow journalists detained in Shan State are facing a lawsuit which is out of date and unjust,” he said, a reference to three reporters—including The Irrawaddy’s Lawi Weng—facing charges under the colonial-era Unlawful Associations Act for reporting on a drug-burning event in territory controlled by the Ta’ang National Liberation Army. “I, as a journalist, would like to tell the government that now is the time to change the laws which are outdated and unjust,” he added.

Plaintiff U Kyaw Myo Shwe told The Irrawaddy that he would submit an appeal to the court in Maha Aung Myay, as he was disappointed with the granting of bail.

“I have no personal feelings concerning Ko Swe Win. I’m just disappointed with the judiciary, which is handling the law as they wish. In the past, people did not receive bail,” he said, regarding defamation cases filed under Article 66(d). “This is unacceptable and the law needs to be straightened out,” he said.