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Veteran Myanmar reporter detained at airport

July 30, 2017

A prominent Myanmar journalist was detained as he tried to leave the country after an ultra-nationalist group filed a suit against him, a colleague said Sunday.

Swe Win, the editor of Myanmar Now, was detained by police at Yangon airport on Sunday evening as he tried to fly to Bangkok under a controversial law often wielded against the press.

“I got contact with Swe Win around 6:30pm and he told me on the phone that he had been arrested at the airport and was now at the police station,” his colleague Htet Khaung Lin told AFP.

He added that Swe Lin was being held over a complaint filed by a member of the ultra-nationalist Ma Ba Tha movement over articles he had written about its leader, the firebrand monk Wirathu.

The broadly worded law — section 66d of the Telecommunications Act — bans uploading false or insulting information and has been frequently used against journalists both by the state and in private cases.

Police at Mingladon township, where Swe Lin was taken, did not respond to requests for comment.

Many had hoped press freedoms would flourish under the new civilian government of democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi but criminal and civil cases against journalists, cartoonists and satirists have instead increased.

Last month three journalists were detained by the military after they spoke to members of an armed rebel group. Suu Kyi’s government later defended the detentions and the trio remain in jail awaiting trial.

Ma Ba Tha are a small but vocal ultra-nationalist group who often rail against Myanmar’s beleaguered Muslim community.

The country’s top religious body has ordered them to disband but that move has done little to blunt their movement.

In March they filed a case against Swe Win over comments he made suggesting Wirathu should be expelled from the monkhood for welcoming the murder of a prominent Muslim lawyer.

It is not yet clear why police did not act until now.

Dispatches from AFP concerning freedom of information, censorship and news coverage in regions where independent media is under threat.