Bangkok, August 29, 2019 – The Committee to Protect Journalists today condemned a decision by Myanmar’s Mandalay District Court to hear an appeal that could reopen a criminal defamation lawsuit against editor Swe Win.
On July 2, the lower Maha Myay Township Court issued a decision dropping a defamation case against Swe Win, editor and co-founder of the Myanmar Now news website, filed in 2017 by Kyaw Mo Shwe, an adherent of hardline Buddhist monk Wirathu, according to a report in The Irrawaddy.
On August 26, the Mandalay District Court agreed to hear Kyaw Mo Shwe’s appeal of the township court’s decision, according to that report. Swe Win is scheduled to appear at the district court on September 9, when a judge will hear the appeal and decide whether to reopen the case, the journalist told CPJ via email.
“The dubious defamation case against Swe Win was rightly dropped on July 2 and, for the sake of press freedom, should not be revived,” said Shawn Crispin, CPJ’s senior Southeast Asia representative. “Myanmar’s courts should stop hearing frivolous cases that aim only to threaten, harass, and silence journalists.”
The case began when Kyaw Mo Shwe sued Swe Win under Article 66(d) of Myanmar’s Telecommunications Law over the journalist’s Facebook posts that suggested Wirathu should be defrocked by Buddhist authorities; if found guilty, Swe Win could face two years in prison, according to CPJ research.
During the lawsuit, Swe Win was required to attend a total of 79 court hearings, each held at a court 650 kilometers from his home in Yangon, where the prosecution’s witnesses, including Wirathu, consistently failed to appear and testify, he told CPJ. His bail conditions called for him to appear at every hearing or face imprisonment, he said.
“This is yet another attempt to disrupt my ability to manage the Myanmar Now newsroom and also an indication that any journalist who reports the activities of the illiberal dark forces in this country would be endlessly bogged down in legal troubles,” Swe Win told CPJ.
CPJ was unable to reach Kyaw Mo Shwe for comment. Wirathu is currently in hiding after being charged by police with sedition for disseminating hate speech against State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi, the country’s de facto leader, news reports said.