Myanmar court drops case against journalist

Swe Win, center, the editor of Myanmar Now, is escorted to a court by police in Mandalay on July 31, 2017 for his hearing over allegations of violating the Myanmar’s telecommunications law. (AFP)
Updated 03 July 2019

Myanmar court drops case against journalist

  • Myanmar Now editor Swe Win had been on trial for two years
  • Myanmar is currently ranked 138th in the world for press freedom

YANGON: A prominent Myanmar journalist accused of defaming a hard-line nationalist monk dubbed the “Buddhist Bin Laden” has had the case against him dropped, his lawyer said.
Myanmar Now editor Swe Win had been on trial for two years after posting an article on Facebook criticizing the preacher abbot Wirathu.
The monk is notorious for spewing Islamophobic vitriol, in particular against the Rohingya minority, and is now himself on-the-run from the law.
His supporters in 2017 pressed charges against the journalist under the country’s telecommunications law, often used against reporters and activists.
But the court dismissed the case Tuesday, Swe Win’s lawyer Ywut Nu Aung said.
“All charges were completely dropped,” she said, explaining that four prosecution witnesses had contravened court orders to turn up more than 20 times.
The article posted by Swe Win quoted an abbot calling for Wirathu to be expelled from monkhood for publicly praising the killers of a respected Muslim lawyer.
Ko Ni, a close confidant of civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi, was shot dead in January 2017 while cradling his grandson.
Swe Win said Wednesday he was relieved his ordeal was over but said the court should never have accepted the case.
“Criticizing someone for praising a murder is not a crime,” he said.
Describing the emotional and financial burden on him and his family, Swe Win said he made the 16-hour return trip from Yangon to the Mandalay court 71 times in two years.
Wirathu’s supporters have vowed to continue the legal fight against the reporter.
The abbot himself is currently facing charges for sedition but remains at large.
He recently gave several provocative speeches at nationalist rallies, making obscene remarks about Suu Kyi and urging people to worship soldiers like “Buddha.”
Facebook blacklisted him last year for his incendiary posts against the Rohingya.
Rights groups say the posts helped whip up animosity, laying foundations for a military crackdown in 2017 that forced some 740,000 to flee to Bangladesh.
The dismissal of the case against Swe Win was likely because of the government’s “new, highly negative view” of Wirathu rather than any commitment to freedom of expression, Phil Robertson from Human Rights Watch said.
Myanmar is currently ranked 138th in the world for press freedom with the number of defamation cases dramatically rising since Suu Kyi’s government came to power in 2016.


US impeachment hearings grab media spotlight

Updated 12 November 2019

US impeachment hearings grab media spotlight

  • Televised hearings into allegations about Trump’s dealings with Ukraine will begin in the US this week

WASHINGTON: This week will mark a new and unparalleled chapter in Donald Trump’s tumultuous presidency, as the Democratic-led impeachment probe goes public with televised hearings into allegations about Trump’s dealings with Ukraine.

Beginning on Wednesday, three witnesses will publicly detail their concerns, previously expressed behind closed doors, that the Trump administration sought to tie military aid to Ukraine to an investigation of the Republican president’s potential Democratic rival for the presidency, Joe Biden.

The testimony will be carried by major broadcast and cable networks and is expected to be viewed by millions, who will watch current and former officials from Trump’s own administration begin to outline a case for his potential removal from office.

It has been 20 years since Americans last witnessed impeachment proceedings, when Republicans brought charges against then-Democratic President Bill Clinton.

Democrats in the US House of Representatives argue Trump abused his authority in pressing the Ukrainian government to investigate Biden and his son Hunter, who was on the board of a Ukrainian energy company, Burisma.

Representative Eric Swalwell, a Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, which will hold the hearings on Wednesday and Friday this week, accused Trump on Sunday of “extortion.”

“We have enough evidence from the depositions that we’ve done to warrant bringing this forward, evidence of an extortion scheme, using taxpayer dollars to ask a foreign government to investigate the president’s opponent,” Swalwell said on CBS’ “Face the Nation.”

Trump argued on Twitter that he was not guilty of misconduct and that the probe was politically driven. “NOTHING WAS DONE WRONG!” he wrote on Sunday.

Democrats consider the open hearings to be crucial to building public support for a formal impeachment vote against Trump. If that occurs, the Republican-controlled Senate would hold a trial on the charges. Republicans have so far shown little support for removing Trump from office, which would require a two-thirds vote in the Senate. The House Intelligence Committee will first hear from William Taylor, the top US diplomat in Ukraine, who told the committee in closed-door testimony that he was unhappy US aid to the country was held up by the administration.

Taylor said he also became uncomfortable with what he described as an “irregular channel” of people involved in Ukraine policy, including Rudy Giuliani, the president’s personal lawyer.

George Kent, a senior State Department official who oversees Ukraine, will appear at Wednesday’s hearing as well. Kent was also concerned about Giuliani’s role in conducting shadow diplomacy — and has testified that he was cut out of
the decision-making loop on Ukraine matters.

On Friday, the committee will hear from former US Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch. She says she was ousted from her post after Giuliani and his allies mounted a campaign against her with what she called “unfounded and false claims by people with clearly questionable motives.”

Democrats are likely to call further witnesses after this week.

House Republicans released their list on Saturday of witnesses they would like brought before the committee, including Hunter Biden and the yet-unnamed whistleblower who first brought the complaint against Trump over his July 25 call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy.

Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, a Democrat, is unlikely to summon either to testify, and even some Republicans have opposed the push from Trump and some of his supporters that the whistleblower be identified.

“I think we should be protecting the identity of the whistleblower,” Will Hurd, a former CIA officer and a Republican member of the committee, said on the “Fox News Sunday” program, “because how we treat this whistleblower will impact whistleblowers in the future.”