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High-profile journalist detained at Rangoon airport

Swe Win, the Myanmar Now editor-in-chief, speaks at a press conference in Rangoon on 8 March 2017. (Photo: Kimberley Phillips / DVB)

The prominent Burmese journalist Swe Win was arrested at Yangon International Airport on Sunday evening as he attempted to leave Burma, with authorities justifying his detention on the grounds that he faces trial on charges of defamation.

The alleged offence occurred months ago, when he suggested online that the firebrand Buddhist cleric U Wirathu should be disrobed for comments he’d made disqualifying him from the monkhood.

“He will be transferred to Oh-Bo Prison in Mandalay tonight,” Police Major Ye Min Thant told DVB, referring to Swe Win and the jurisdiction where he will presumably face court proceedings.

“Thank you for coming. But now, I do not have any strength to respond [to being detained],” Swe Win told reporters at the Mingaladon Township police station on Sunday night.

In May, Burma’s minister for religious affairs effectively absolved Swe Win concerning the controversy, saying the cases brought against him lacked legal merit.

“It is good that this has happened. I have got to tackle this. The law should not exist,” Swe Win said on Sunday after his arrest, apparently referring to article 66(d) of the Telecommunications Law, an anti-defamation provision that has stoked controversy in recent months. “It will be good for the citizens as well.”

In a Facebook missive that he had shared earlier this year, Swe Win accused U Wirathu of violating pārājikas — the Buddhist code of monastic discipline — when he re-posted the assertion that the monk had praised the killers of renowned Muslim lawyer Ko Ni.

Swe Win was attempting to fly to Bangkok when he was detained on Sunday evening and “was not fleeing Burma to avoid law enforcement,” according to his lawyer, Khin Maung Myint, who added that the journalist’s flight to Thailand was in order to ensure that Myanmar Now’s operations would continue in his absence, should he be detained.

Swe Win, a widely respected and award-winning journalist who heads up Myanmar Now, came to fame for exposing a domestic abuse case that had gone unreported previously.

He leads Myanmar Now, a non-profit news outlet that covers Burma.