Myanmar Now chief editor Swe Win was this afternoon released on bail by a court in Mandalay following his re-arrest last night when he tried to board a flight from Rangoon to Bangkok.
“U Swe Win was granted bail of 5 million kyat [US$3,675],” said Htet Khaung Lin, a reporter from Myanmar Now. “He had to post two sureties. His next court appearance will be on 7 August.”
Swe Win was arrested at Yangon International Airport last night as he attempted to leave Burma. The prominent Burmese journalist is due in court next week to face defamation charges. His lawyer denied that he was attempting to flee the country and said that he was due to return to Burma a day later.
Swe Win was remanded in custody and escorted to Mandalay, where Maha Aung Myay court at 4pm agreed to release him until his trial begins on 7 August.
The alleged defamation offence occurred months ago, when Swe Win suggested online that firebrand Buddhist cleric U Wirathu should be disrobed from the monkhood for inflammatory comments he had made.
U Wirathu, who was in 2013 portrayed as “The Face of Buddhist Terror” on the cover of TIME magazine, is head of the Association for the Protection of Race and Religion, better known by its Burmese acronym Ma Ba Tha. He has been widely condemned for his vitriolic rhetoric aimed mostly at the country’s Muslim community, but commands feverish support among Buddhist extremists.
It was a member of the Ma Ba Tha, Kyaw Myo Shwe, who filed charges against Swe Win after the latter denounced U Wirathu on social media.
Swe Win was arrested under Burma’s notorious law, Article 66(d), which covers “online defamation”, and which critics say is being used by the government and the military to muzzle the media and to crack down on dissent.
Called for comment by DVB on Monday, Burma’s Minister of Information Pe Myint declined to speak about Swe Win’s re-arrest.
Instead he said, “Just a few days ago, media outlets, the military’s True News Information Team, the Ministry of Defense Services and the Ministry of Information had a meeting, the main objective of which was to agree to negotiate these kinds of issues [involving press freedom]. We are currently in the process of setting up a team, which will facilitate negotiations on media-related matters. Each case will be different, so we will endeavor to establish a comprehensive programme.”