YANGON (Reuters) – One of Myanmar’s best known journalists was released on bail yesterday, his lawyer said, but is set to stand trial for allegedly defaming firebrand Buddhist monk Wirathu on social media.
Swe Win, chief editor of news agency Myanmar Now, was detained at Yangon’s airport on Sunday evening, raising concerns about freedom of expression in the country, where four other prominent journalists have been detained in recent months.
Mr Swe Win was remanded in custody and taken to the central city of Mandalay, where a court agreed to release him for the duration of a trial set to begin on August 7, lawyer Khin Maung Myint said by telephone.
Mr Swe Win is charged with infringing the controversial article 66(d) of Myanmar’s telecommunications law over a Facebook post that cited criticism of Wirathu, the Mandalay monk infamous for fierce anti-Muslim rhetoric.
Police had misinterpreted Mr Swe Win’s visit to the airport on Sunday as an attempt to flee, Khin Maung Myint added.
The renowned investigative reporter, who has written critically about Buddhist nationalism in Myanmar, planned to fly to Bangkok but return a day later, his lawyer said.
Advocates of press freedom are alarmed that reporters are being detained in Myanmar, despite Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi taking power last year amid a transition from full military rule.
The military retain control of the police, key ministries and a quarter of lawmakers’ seats.
Mr Swe Win’s case dates from March, when a follower of Wirathu filed a complaint against Mr Swe Win under article 66(d) after the reporter posted on Facebook quoting a Buddhist abbot who accused Mr Wirathu of breaking monastic rules.
Wirathu, in his own Facebook post, had publicly praised the killers of Ko Ni, a Muslim expert on constitutional law who was assassinated on January 29.