Ko Swe Win was strolling home after a dinner hosted by the United States Ambassador to Myanmar Scot Marciel when he was set upon by three thugs from the shadows. Shouting “Are you Swe Win?” they threatened to punch him. Luckily for the editor-in-chief of Myanmar Now, a bilingual news website, he was steps away from his Yangon apartment. A neighbour intervened and his attackers ran off. That was in March this year.
Today, we met in a teashop down the road from his office on Seikkanthar Street in Yangon. Over sweet tea, and in between power cuts, the thirty-nine-year old journalist recounted the events of that night with a smile as rain bucketed down outside. He has reasons to believe the attack — coming hot on the heels of a lawsuit that was filed against him — was connected to his work as a journalist. It also came after he had crossed swords with U Wirathu, the leader of the controversial ultra-nationalist Buddhist association MaBaTha.
The story goes back to the murder of U Ko Ni, a prominent lawyer and adviser to the ruling National League for Democracy, who was assassinated by a hired gunman outside Yangon International Airport in late January 2017. Even though Ko Ni’s killer was apprehended, leading to the arrest of several former army officers, no clear motives have been established for the crime, and speculation is rife that the military, which is opposed to the constitutional changes the Muslim lawyer was working on before he was murdered, may have played a hand.