Reporters Without Borders (RSF) calls for an independent inquiry into a clearly targeted shooting attack on Swe Win, the Myanmar Now news website’s well-known editor, in which both civilian and military officials seem to have been involved. It took place 11 months ago, on 31 December 2019, but has only just been revealed by the website.
Swe Win sustained a gunshot injury to the leg in the attack but would almost certainly have been killed if the bullet’s course had not been deflected by first hitting the door lock of the vehicle in which he was travelling. After saying nothing to avoid prejudicing the official investigation or putting Swe Win in more danger, Myanmar Now finally published an account of the attack on 26 November.
It occurred while Swe Win was vacationing with a colleague and their two families in the south of the western state of Rakhine. On 30 December, the owner of the guesthouse where they were spending that night received several phone calls from military intelligence officers, police officers and local civilian officials in the nearby town of Thandwe.
The callers wanted to know about Swe Win’s movements and, in particular, asked the owner to let them know as soon as Swe Win left the next morning.
Forty minutes after Swe Win and his companions left the guesthouse the next morning, the shot that wounded him was fired from behind tall grass as they were turning a corner on a country lane. Shortly thereafter, the local police reported that he had been hit by a piece of flying debris from a dynamite explosion at a nearby rock quarry.
This version was contradicted by the head of the local civilian administration who – in response to Swe Win’s questions three days later – denied that there was any quarry or roadworks in the area. He also denied that the police had been aware of Swe Win’s presence in the region prior to the shooting although his subordinates and the police had questioned the guesthouse owner about his presence.
The local police investigation into the shooting has made no progress in the 11 months since it took place.
“In view of the pathetic denials by the Thandwe police, we call on Myanmar’s central authorities to order an independent investigation to shed all possible light on this shocking murder attempt,” said Daniel Bastard, the head of RSF’s Asia-Pacific desk. “The implication of civilian and military officials in this ambush speaks volumes about the methods used by the authorities to intimidate journalists. These methods must stop. The credibility of the rule of law in Myanmar is at stake.”
Swe Win told RSF: “Our stories have angered and shamed many individuals in power, which is the only reason why I believe I was shot. This incident was a serious targeted threat with the aim of silencing me and stopping my work. However, as long as I remain alive, I will continue to speak out and to do very professional journalism in a powerful way.”
In response to a defamation complaint by a follower of the fundamentalist Buddhist monk Ashin Wirathu, Swe Win was arrested at Yangon airport on 30 July 2017. He was then freed on bail but, during the next two years, he had to attend a total of 71 court hearings in Mandalay, each one requiring an 18-hour road trip from his home in Yangon. The charges were finally dropped in July 2019.
Myanmar is ranked 139th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2020 World Press Freedom Index.