Japan filmmaker in Myanmar faces dissent rap

YANGON, Myanmar: A Japanese journalist detained in Myanmar has been charged with breaching immigration law and encouraging dissent against the country’s armed forces, the junta said on Thursday.

Myanmar’s military has clamped down on press freedoms since ousting Aung Sang Suu Kyi’s democratically elected government in its Feb. 1, 2021 coup, arresting reporters and photographers, as well as revoking broadcasting licenses as the Southeast Asian nation plunged into chaos.

Toru Kubota, who was held while covering a protest in Myanmar’s largest city Yangon last week, “has been charged under section 505 (a) and under immigration law 13-1,” the junta said in a statement.

505 (a) — a law that criminalizes encouraging dissent against the military and carries a maximum three-year jail term — has been widely used in the crackdown on dissent.

Breaching immigration law 13-1 carries a maximum of five years in prison.

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Documentary filmmaker Kubota, 26, was detained near an anti-government rally in Yangon along with two Myanmar citizens.

After the charges were filed, he was transferred from police custody to the city’s Insein prison, a security source told Agence France-Presse (AFP), requesting anonymity.

“He’s in good health and embassy officials have visited him already at the police station, where he has been detained,” the source said.

Kubota is the fifth foreign journalist detained in Myanmar after American citizens Nathan Maung and Danny Fenster, Robert Bociaga of Poland and Yuki Kitazumi of Japan, who were all eventually freed and deported.

Fenster, who was held in May last year as he attempted to leave the country, faced a closed-door trial inside Insein on charges of unlawful association, incitement against the military and breaching visa rules.

He was sentenced to 11 years in prison before being pardoned and deported.Thursday’s charges came after Kubota’s friends, including Kitazumi, called for his immediate release and an online petition had collected more than 41,000 signatures.

Kubota’s films focused on giving a voice to the downtrodden, such as the plight of Rohingya refugees and the poor in Tokyo amid the coronavirus pandemic.

A graduate of the prestigious Keio University with a master’s degree from the University of the Arts London, Kubota also did work for Yahoo! News Japan, Vice Japan and Al Jazeera English.

“I want to be as free as possible, and that’s why I make documentary films,” he says on his Twitter profile.

Tokyo has long-standing relations with the country’s military and Japan is a top donor to Myanmar.

More than 2,100 people have been killed in the crackdown on dissent in Myanmar and almost 15,000 arrested, a local monitoring group said.

As of March, 48 journalists remain in custody across the country, according to monitoring group Reporting Asean.

Asean stands for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, which was founded in 1967. Its members are Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam.

Only China jailed more reporters than Myanmar last year, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists.


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