Publisher Sidelines CEO Who Alleged Threats by Than Shwe’s Grandson

By Simon Roughneen & Sanay Lin 21 October 2013

RANGOON — The publisher of local newspaper Sunlight has seemingly sidelined a CEO who had accused a group backed by the grandson of Burma’s former dictator Sen-Gen Than Shwe and the son of Commerce Minister Win Myint of raiding his offices late on Friday.

The publisher announced that he plans to shut down the paper following the alleged incident.

Speaking to Rangoon media on Saturday, Sunlight’s CEO Moe Hein said that “a group of 15 or 20 people came to the office with six cars around midnight. Minister of Commerce U Win Myint’s son Ko Thurein, Phoe La Pyae and his friends were in the group.”

Phoe La Pyae is a name for Nay Shwe Thway Aung, grandson of Burma’s former military ruler Than Shwe.

Moe Hein said that Nay Shwe Thway Aung did not enter the premises while the raid took place, but alleged that 14 computers and copies of the newspaper were taken during the incident.

Sunlight publisher Yu Naing has since distanced himself from CEO Moe Hein.

“I told Moe Hein not to carry out personal attacks in the journal and to stick to journalistic ethics, but he did not do so,” Yu Naing told The Irrawaddy, adding that Moe Hein ran the articles without the approval of the Sunlight editorial board.

Yu Naing said that Nay Shwe Thway Aung, whose appearance alongside Burma’s newly-crowned Miss Universe candidate at a recent football match prompted a flurry of rumors on Burmese social and print media, did not go to the newspaper’s office on Friday night.

Speculation around the alleged raid centered on three recent articles published in the journal, including derisory commentary on Nay Shwe Thway Aung’s appearance with the Miss Universe candidate and criticism of Burma’s crony culture.

Yu Naing described Friday’s alleged incident as an internal matter at the publication and denied suggestions that he had been strong-armed into closing the newspaper.

He said that the newspaper—derided in Burmese media circles as a gossipy tabloid—will be wound-up, with apologetic notices to that effect appearing on Monday in Kyemon and Myanma Ahlin, two government-run newspapers.

However, Sunlight Editor-in-Chief Aung Si Hein said that while the articles in question were run without board approval, the same is true for the notices placed in government newspapers today, announcing the closing-down of Sunlight.

“We, the editors’ board, have no desire to stop the publication,” Aung Si Hein told The Irrawaddy.

Attempts to contact Moe Hein, Thurein and Nay Shwe Thway Aung have proven unsuccessful so far.

Asked whether the account of Friday’s event given by Moe Hein meant a transgression of press freedom, Ye Htut, Burma’s Deputy Information Minister, told The Irrawaddy that “as far as I am aware, this is a dispute between the publisher and the editor.”

Than Shwe, Nay Shwe Thway Aung’s grandfather, stepped-down as Burma’s military ruler after 2010 elections, but is reckoned by many Burmese to wield behind-the-scenes influence on domestic politics.

It’s not the first time that Nay Shwe Thway Aung has been caught up in controversy. As a teenager he was accused of kidnapping a celebrity model and was tainted by the arrest of two friends for drugs offenses. More recently, the former dictator’s grandson was accused of attacking a police officer, apparently for not clearing traffic for him in Rangoon.