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Jailed for Journalism: A Profile of Detained Reporters in Myanmar

(Left to right) The Voice Daily chief editor Kyaw Min Swe, Myanmar Now chief editor Ko Swe Win, The Irrawaddy senior reporter Lawi Weng, DVB senior reporter Ko Aye Nai, and DVB reporter Pyae Phone Aung. / The Irrawaddy

This edited article is from The Irrawaddy, an independent news website in Myanmar, and is republished by Global Voices as part of a content-sharing agreement.

The arrest of esteemed investigative reporter Ko Swe Win at Yangon International Airport on the evening of Sunday July 30, 2017, temporarily raised the total number of journalists detained in Myanmar for doing their job since June to five.

Out of the five, Ko Swe Win, the chief editor of news agency Myanmar Now, is the only one who is not being sued by the military—instead, a follower of the banned nationalist group Ma Ba Tha is prosecuting him for posting on Facebook an article which criticized ultranationalist monk U Wirathu.

Ko Swe Win has since been granted bail from Maha Aung Myay Township Court in Mandalay, but his four colleagues are still imprisoned.

All of the arrests are directly linked to the work of the reporters, exacerbating fears of a clampdown on independent media and casting serious doubts over whether the country is opening a new chapter on press freedom.

Ko Swe Win, Chief Editor, Myanmar Now

Former political prisoner Ko Swe Win, 39, was a senior reporter for The Irrawaddy from 2010-2012. Last year, he was honored by the government for his reporting on the abuse suffered by two child maids in a Yangon tailor shop. He was charged under Article 66(d) after Mandalay resident U Kyaw Myo Shwe, a follower of ultranationalist monk U Wirathu, claimed the chief correspondent insulted the monk in a Facebook post. Later in March 2017, Ko Swe Win faced a second lawsuit for comments made at a press conference concerning the Article 66(d) charge. That same month, the journalist was threatened by three unidentified men.

U Kyaw Min Swe, Chief Editor, The Voice Daily & Weekly

U Kyaw Min Swe, 47, has worked for The Voice Daily for 18 years and is currently chief editor. He was arrested, along with satire columnist Ko Kyaw Zwa Naing, after the Myanmar language publication printed an article which questioned the country’s military policies and the peace process. The pair were charged under both Article 66(d) of the Telecommunications Act and Article 25(b) of the Media Law, after Lieutenant Colonel Lin Tun of the Myanmar Army filed a suit against them at the Bahan Township police station on May 17, 2017. Ko Kyaw Zwa Naing was later released. [UPDATE: Kyaw Min Swe was released on bail on August 4.]

Lawi Weng, Senior Reporter, The Irrawaddy

Since joining The Irrawaddy a decade ago, Lawi Weng, 39, has been at the forefront—and often the frontline—of reporting on ethnic conflicts in Myanmar. In the past year, he has reported on the Northern Alliance offensive in northern Shan State and clashes between the Democratic Karen Benevolent Army and the Myanmar Army-aligned Border Guard Force in Kachin State. On July 28, 2017, the judge presiding over the case accepted the bail request and said he would rule at the next court date on Aug. 4. [UPDATE: The court denied the petition to release the accused.]

Ko Aye Nai, Senior Reporter, Democratic Voice of Burma (DVB)

Veteran reporter Ko Aye Nai, 52, has been working for DVB for 11 years, some of them spent in Chiang Mai, Thailand, while the news outlet was in exile. He, along with Lawi Weng and Ko Pyae Phone Aung, were charged under Article 17(1) of the colonial-era Unlawful Associations Act for contacting an ethnic armed group, the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA), and were placed in detention in Hsipaw prison. They face sentences of up to three years. “We don’t even have a pen sharp enough to be a weapon,” he said at the first court hearing. “We can die any time by stepping on landmines or being shot. We take risks for our work.”

Ko Pyae Phone Aung, Assistant Broadcast Journalist, DVB

24-year-old reporter Ko Pyae Phone Aung joined DVB one year ago. The journalist's first appearance as a video broadcaster was initially scheduled for July 11, 2017, but he was arrested on June 26, along with Ko Aye Nai and Lawi Weng in Namhsan, on the way back from covering a drug-burning ceremony held by the TNLA to mark the United Nations’ International Day Against Drug Abuse.

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