Monday, September 25, 2017

Prison release bittersweet for Sonny Swe

As part of a government amnesty that saw 93 prisoners released on April 23, U Myat (Sonny) Swe, the co-founder of The Myanmar Times, was released from Taunggyi Prison in Shan State after serving more than eight years of a 14-year sentence.

But he says he feels “half-empty” because his father, a former senior Military Intelligence official, remains behind bars.
U Myat Swe was imprisoned in 2005 after being convicted of bypassing censorship regulations at The Myanmar Times.

He arrived at Yangon airport at 11am on Wednesday and was greeted by about 30 colleagues from the company, as well as by his wife, Daw Yamin Htin Aung, and his 18-year-old son, Nicholas Swe.
“I’m happy to see my family, old colleagues and friends. But I’m not fully happy, as my father is still inside,” U Myat Swe said in an interview at The Myanmar Times’ office.

“I feel halfempty,” he said. “I thought both my father and I would be released together, but it didn’t happen.”
His father, former Brigadier General Thein Swe, is still serving a term of 152 years in Myingyan Prison, and U Myat Swe said he is not in good health.
U Myat Swe said that before he was released he had only six months left to serve on his term because it had been reduced several times under previous amnesties.

“I was in prison for eight years and five months. Now my family is my priority. I will push for my father’s release. I can say nothing about work at the moment.”

But his former partner at The Myanmar Times, Mr Ross Dunkley, said U Myat Swe’s release would “undoubtedly” have an effect on the ownership struggles that have plagued the company in recent years. Mr Dunkley is facing several criminal charges following an altercation with the wife of his business partner, Dr Tin Tun Oo, which occurred following tense negotiations over the future of the company.

Mr Dunkley called on Dr Tin Tun Oo, who bought U Myat Swe’s shares at a reduced price when he was forced to sell them in 2005, to return them to the company’s founder.

“U Myat Swe is entitled to buy back his shares back at no more than the price his family was paid for them all those years ago,” he said.

“To be honest, I think he should get the shares back for free. Once this issue is resolved, we will push on to realise our joint ambitions.

“There hasn’t been a day in this past eight-and-a-half years that I haven’t thought of him and his situation: being in prison, being unjustly detained for doing nothing wrong. It’s a sad episode that has finally [ended]. Now I only wish to see his father released.”

Mr Dunkley and U Myat Swe established The Myanmar Times in 2000. Its parent company, Myanmar Consolidated Media, Ltd, remains the only foreign-invested media organisation in Myanmar.