The follower of a Buddhist nationalist movement in Myanmar said Thursday his family had pressured him to withdraw a defamation lawsuit against a prominent journalist who criticized an outspoken monk in the group, but warned that his organization is pursuing further legal action.
Kyaw Myo Shwe, a follower of Ma Ba Tha Buddhist movement, had lodged the complaint against Swe Win, chief editor of Myanmar Now, under Article 66(d) of the Telecommunications Law, but told RFA’s Myanmar Service he changed his mind after his mother urged him to drop the lawsuit.
“I am going to withdraw the charge against Swe Win because my mother asked me to do so,” he said.
“However, someone else will file other charges against him—possibly through Ma Ba Tha or other nationalist organizations. We are still discussing who is going to file a claim against Swe Win.”
On Wednesday, Kyaw Thu, commander of the No. 7 Police Station in Mandalay, said Kyaw Myo Shwe had filed the lawsuit because Swe Win used his Facebook account “Ba Kaung” to defame Wirathu, a controversial Buddhist monk from the Ma Ba Tha movement.
In a Feb. 28 Facebook post, Swe Win criticized Wirathu for praising the brutal murder of Ko Ni, a prominent Muslim lawyer and critic of Myanmar’s powerful military. The reporter said Wirathu had “committed a major violation of parajika (the Buddhist monk code)” by doing so.
Wirathu demanded an apology from Swe Win within a week and Kyaw Myo Shwe filed the lawsuit after the deadline had passed, the police commander said. Swe Win faced a maximum of three years in prison if convicted under Article 66(d) of the Telecommunications Law.
On Thursday, Kyaw Myo Shwe said that Ma Ba Tha or another nationalist organization would pursue separate charges against the reporter because he had “insulted Ma Ba Tha” during a Home Affairs Ministry press conference on lawyer Ko Ni’s murder and in other forums.
“He suggested Ma Ba Tha was involved in the murder case of Ko Ni, and said in interviews and wrote [online] that he will fight against Ma Ba Tha until it is abolished,” Kyaw Myo Shwe said.
“We plan to charge him under Article 295(a) of the Penal Code, which prohibits deliberate and malicious attacks on religion.”
Kyaw Thu on Thursday confirmed that Kyaw Myo Shwe had withdrawn his lawsuit.
“Kyaw Myo Shwe contacted me and told me that he wants to withdraw the charge against Swe Win because of his family’s pressure to do so,” the police commander said.
“He doesn’t want his mother upset because he did it,” he said, adding that he was awaiting an official letter from Kyaw Myo Shwe retracting the complaint of his own free will.
Swe Win suggested Thursday that the authorities had been complicit in Kyaw Myo Shwe’s lawsuit against him.
“[The complaint against me] includes my ID number and my latest address, which I only moved to recently—Kyaw Myo Swe couldn’t have this information unless the authorities shared it with him,” he said.
“I believe the authorities were involved in this charge against me together with Kyaw Myo Swe.”
The reporter also questioned why the government had never taken action against Wirathu for speaking in support of Ko Ni’s murder.
“I want to ask members of parliament and government officials … is it right that [Ko Ni] was killed and we should thank his murderers,” Swe Win asked.
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, a Buddhist monk who serves as vice chairman of Ma Ba Tha, had hailed the men accused of planning Ko Ni’s assassination as defenders of Myanmar’s race and religion.
‘Speaking the truth’
When reached by telephone, President’s Office spokesman Zaw Htay refused to comment on Swe Win’s case.
But some observers suggested that authorities were wrong to have acted on Kyaw Myo Shwe’s complaint.
Thein Than Oo, a lawyer who has followed the case, said Swe Win should not be charged for “speaking the truth.”
“This is akin to limiting freedom of expression,” he told RFA.
“If the authorities allow charges against Swe Win, it implies they are ashamed by his questions during the Home Affairs Ministry’s press conference regarding the assassination of Ko Ni.”
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 Thet Su Aung, Aung Theinkha and Thiha Tun for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story erroneously identified Wirathu as vice chairman of Ma Ba Tha.