Japanese journalist held in Myanmar facing charges

Bangkok Post/ Reuters/ 4 August 2022

A Japanese documentary filmmaker held in Myanmar faces charges of breaking an immigration law and encouraging dissent against the ruling military, local media and the junta's information team said on Thursday.

Toru Kubota, 26, entered Myanmar on a tourist visa on July 1 and was arrested while covering a protest in Yangon 30 days later, according to an official statement seen by Reuters.

Myanmar has been in turmoil since the generals seized power in a coup in February last year, prompting a backlash of nationwide protests that were suppressed by the military with lethal force.

The army has since been fighting on multiple fronts, including against newly formed resistance groups allied with a shadow government.

The immigration and dissent charges Kubota is facing carry maximum jail terms of five years and two years respectively.

Japan's government and its embassy in Yangon did not immediately respond to requests for comment. A Japanese government spokesman on Sunday said Tokyo was calling for the detained man's release.

Kubota's personal website says he has worked with media companies such as Yahoo! News Japan, VICE JAPAN and Al Jazeera English.

His friends and fellow journalists in Tokyo appealed on Wednesday for him to be freed, while 47,000 people have signed an online petition calling for his release.

A Japanese freelance journalist was freed in Myanmar last year after initially being arrested and charged with spreading false news in covering anti-coup protests. The junta said his release was in recognition the two countries' close ties.

In 2007, soldiers shot and killed a Japanese journalist in Myanmar during a pro-democracy demonstration.

More than 11,800 people are currently in detention in Myanmar over their opposition to the junta, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, an activist group that has been documenting the crackdown.