YANGON—Ko Swe Win, editor-in-chief of the Yangon-based investigative news outlet Myanmar Now, earned Asia’s highest honor on Friday, taking home a 2019 Ramon Magsaysay Award alongside five other recipients from across Asia.
Ko Swe Win is the seventh Myanmar citizen to win the prestigious award.
“In electing Ko Swe Win to receive the 2019 Ramon Magsaysay Award for Emergent Leadership,” the foundation wrote, “the board of trustees recognizes his undaunted commitment to practice independent, ethical, and socially engaged journalism in Myanmar; his incorruptible sense of justice and unflinching pursuit of the truth in crucial but under-reported issues; and his resolute insistence that it is in the quality and force of media’s truth-telling that we can convincingly protect human rights in the world.”
“The Magsaysay awardees of 2019 all reflect courage undaunted, in their commitment to build solutions to vital and complex issues in their societies,” Ramon Magsaysay Award Foundation President Carmencita Abella said in a prepared statement. “Theirs is a moral courage that is unfazed by oppressive systems, or social divisions, or institutional resistance, or deep cultural prejudice, or even by the burdens of building the capacities of others.”
Both Ko Swe Win and his Myanmar Now are well-known for in-depth, investigative reporting on human rights abuses; corruption; for criticizing ultranationalist monks; and for exposing the family wealth of military generals.
“With a current readership of 350,000, the news service is highly regarded for the quality, balance, and depth of its reporting on high-impact issues, including land grabbing, child labor, and abuse of domestic workers,” the award foundation said.
The award committee also singled out Ko Swe Win’s fierce criticism of ultranationalist Buddhist monk Ashin Wirathu in 2017 for peddling hate speech against Muslims and for publicly commending the murder of U Ko Ni, the Muslim human rights lawyer and legal advisor that created the State Counsellor seat now occupied by de factor government leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, who is otherwise barred from the presidency by the military-drafted Constitution.
U Ko Ni was assassinated at the Yangon International Airport in January 2017.
Ko Swe Win wrote that Wirathu’s remarks constituted cardinal sins against the Buddhist religion and that the monk should be defrocked—writings for which he endured legal and physical harassment.
A Wirathu follower opened a legal case against Ko Swe Win in 2017 under the repressive Telecommunications Law’s Article 66(d) in a Mandalay court in March 2017. The trial lasted over two years and forced Ko Swe Win to repeatedly travel the 780 miles between the Mandalay court and his home in Yangon at great personal cost.
Wirathu has since gone into hiding after being sued by the Ministry of Religious Affairs and Culture. He is now being tried in absentia.
Ko Swe Win was also held for seven years as a political prisoner on national security-related charges—enduring torture and starvation—during military rule.
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