A prominent Myanmar journalist is facing a defamation case, police said Wednesday, after he took to Facebook last week to criticize a nationalist Buddhist monk who praised the January assassination of one of the nation’s leading Muslim attorneys.
Kyaw Myo Shwe, a follower of Ma Ba Tha Buddhist nationalist movement vice chairman Wirathu, lodged the complaint against Swe Win, chief editor of Myanmar Now, under Article 66(d) of the Telecommunications Law, according to Kyaw Thu, commander of the No. 7 Police Station in Mandalay.
“Kyaw Myo Shwe said Swe Win, who is the owner of the Facebook account ‘Ba Kaung,’ had defamed U Wirathu with his writings,” Kyaw Thu told reporters, using a local honorific to refer to the nationalist monk.
“Wirathu asked for an apology within seven days, but Swe Win didn’t comply by the deadline, so they opened a case against him.”
The maximum sentence for online defamation under Article 66(d) of Myanmar’s Telecommunications Law is three years in prison.
On Feb. 28, Swe Win used his Facebook account to slam Wirathu for praising the brutal murder of Ko Ni, a prominent Muslim lawyer and critic of Myanmar’s powerful military. In a post, the reporter said Wirathu had “committed a major violation of parajika (the Buddhist monk code)” by doing so.
Ko Ni was shot dead as he held his grandson on Jan. 29 outside Yangon ¬airport in a murder that shocked the country. A taxi driver, Ne Win, was also killed trying to stop the gunman, who authorities said was hired by a former military officer who is on the run.
Wirathu had hailed the men accused of planning Ko Ni’s assassination as defenders of Myanmar’s race and religion.
On Wednesday, Swe Win defended his Facebook post and said he would see Kyaw Myo Shwe and Wirathu in court because he could not allow Ma Ba Tha to instigate hatred in Myanmar under the cover of religion.
“They are committing hate crimes—they are distributing material which is not in line with Lord Buddha’s teachings,” he told reporters outside the Kyauktada township offices of Myanmar Now.
“So whether we are Buddhists or not, we have to oppose and attack this organization.”
In an interview with RFA’s Myanmar Service, Swe Win said his post simply reflected comments given to Myanmar Now by Mandalay-based monk Sein Dago Wu when interviewed about whether Wirathu’s actions had violated parajika.
“Wirathu had written that he thanked [Ko Ni’s] killer Kyi Lin for his act, and that amounted to supporting and encouraging murder—which is contrary to the rules a monk has to follow,” Swe Win said.
“We included these remarks by a monk who is well-versed in Buddhist studies, so people would understand a monk cannot say such things.”
Swe Win said Wirathu and Ma Ba Tha lawyers did not respond to requests for interviews.
He also questioned why the court had allowed the defamation case to be opened.
“Frankly speaking, [Wirathu] is inhumane, a criminal—he should be disrobed and punished by society as he has committed far worse than breaking parajika,” Swe Win said.
“What right has he got to sue for defamation? He has nothing to be defamed.”
Swe Win has made a name for himself since being appointed chief correspondent at Myanmar Now in April 2016 and recently received an award from the government for his work reporting on the ruthless abuse of two maids working at a tailor shop in Yangon last year.
On Wednesday, he asked reporters why authorities have done so little to check hate speech from groups like Ma Ba Tha, adding that “when the government does not address a crime, it is as if it is supporting the criminal.”
Myanmar has transitioned from a country ruled by a military junta to one run by a civilian government under Aung San Suu Kyi, but rights groups say authorities have scaled up an attack on critical voices from the opposition.
At least 43 cases have been filed under Article 66(d) since March last year, when the current government came to power.
Reported by Aung Theinkha for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khin Maung Nyane. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.