Myanmar Police Detain Journalist Ahead of Defamation Trial

Ashin Wirathu, a high-profile leader of the Myanmar Buddhist organization known as Ma Ba Tha, is interviewed last year at his monastery in Mandalay, Myanmar. Photo: Aung Naing Soe / Associated Press

YANGON — Police in Myanmar have detained a prominent journalist, accusing him of attempting to flee the country shortly before his trial on defamation charges brought by a follower of a Buddhist monk who has stirred up anti-Muslim hatred.

The editor of the nonprofit online news outlet Myanmar Now, Swe Win, was taken by police on Monday to the central city of Mandalay, where his trial is to begin Thursday. His lawyer said he was detained Sunday as he prepared to board a flight to Thailand to make arrangements for the news service’s operations while he is involved with his trial.

The complaint against him was made by a follower of Wirathu, a Mandalay-based Buddhist monk best known for his provocative speeches about the country’s Muslim minority. An organization led by Wirathu, Ma Ba Tha, has been accused of stirring up sentiment against Muslims, leading to deadly violence.

Swe Win criticized Wirathu on social media, accusing him of violating the Buddhist code of monastic discipline.

Several journalists have been arrested recently in cases that rights advocates say violate freedom of expression.