A prominent Myanmar investigative journalist charged with defamation refused to apologize for a social media post he wrote about the country’s most notorious ultranationalist Buddhist monk though the prosecution offered to drop the case against him at a courthouse in the central Myanmar city of Mandalay on Tuesday.
Swe Win, editor-in-chief of the nonprofit independent news service Myanmar Now, faces charges for violating Article 66(d) of the 2013 Telecommunications Act by defaming Wirathu, a firebrand monk who frequently uses hate speech targeting the country’s Muslim minority.
The article prohibits the use of the telecom network to defame people and carries a jail sentence of up to three years and a fine for those found guilty of violating it.
State prosecutor Kyaw Myo Shwe said during today’s hearing that he would withdraw his lawsuit against Swe Win if he apologized for allegedly sharing a Facebook post criticizing Wirathu for supporting the alleged murderer of a prominent Muslim lawyer.
However, Swe Win declined the offer during his 18th appearance in court in connection with the case.
“I do not personally hate U [honorific] Wirathu,” Swe Win said. “I’m not being stubborn by refusing to apologize to him. I cannot change my words.”
Also at the hearing, the judge accepted documents and a compact disc with a video interview Swe Win gave at a press conference, which the prosecution submitted as evidence.
Khin Maung Myint, Swe Win’s lawyer, said believes the CD is inadmissible evidence that the judge should not have accepted.
He argued that the prosecutor made the recording from a Radio Free Asia broadcast but edited certain parts, distorting the context of Swe Win’s comments about Wirathu, the online journal The Irrawaddy reported. He also said that the CD was not submitted to the court when the charges were initially filed.
“We will file an appeal with the Mandalay district court,” Khin Maung Myint said.
Swe Win’s next court date is scheduled for Feb. 26.
One of a dozen
Kyaw Myo Shwe filed the criminal defamation case against Swe Win on March 7, 2017, accusing him of insulting Wirathu, a leader of the ultranationalist monk group Ma Ba Tha, in comments Swe Win made in February on Facebook.
Also in March, religious authorities in Mandalay banned Wirathu from giving sermons because of his repeated hate speech and anti-Muslim rhetoric.
Swe Win, who reportedly received threats for his reporting on Wirathu, is one of roughly a dozen journalists to have been arrested and detained in Myanmar last year on charges related to defamation, unlawful association, or violations of the country’s Media Law.
Rights groups have slammed the civilian-led government of de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi for appearing to backpedal on press freedom after decades of stifling military rule in Myanmar.
Reported by Thet Su Aung for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.