Myanmar court sentences Japanese journalist to prison

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A court in military-ruled Myanmar sentenced a Japanese journalist and filmmaker to prison for filming an anti-government protest in July, the junta said on Thursday.

Toru Kubota was sentenced to a total of 10 years in prison, a Japanese foreign ministry official said, citing the filmmaker’s lawyer. The filmmaker received three years in prison for sedition and seven years for violating a law on telecommunications.

The sentences are to be served concurrently.

Kubota has another court hearing on October 12 relating to his alleged violation of the immigration law, the Japanese official added.

Kubota was filming a small flash protest against the military coup in Myanmar on July 30 when he was arrested by plainclothes police officers in Yangon’s South Dagon township.

“He was arrested in a township under the martial laws in Yangon, that’s why he was sentenced for these two cases by the military tribunal,” a source familiar with the proceedings told dpa news agency.

According to news agency AFP, Kubota’s documentaries in the past have focused on Myanmar’s Muslim Rohingya minority and “refugees and ethnic issues in Myanmar.” 

Turmoil in Myanmar

Since the military coup in February 2021 that ousted Aung San Suu Kyi’s democratically-elected government, Myanmar has been roiled by unrest.

In an attempt to stifle dissent, the junta has arrested thousands of people including politicians, bureaucrats, students and journalists.

The junta forced at least 12 media outlets to shut down, arresting about 142 journalists, 57 of whom are still in jail.

Since the military coup, over 2,300 civilians have died and at least 15,700 people have been arrested, according to Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, a watchdog group based in Thailand.

Kubota is the fifth foreign journalist to be detained in Myanmar, after Nathan Maung and Danny Fenster of the US, Robert Bociaga of Poland and Yuki Kitazumi of Japan — all of whom were later freed and deported.

Tokyo a top donor to Myanmar

Japan has historically maintained cordial relations with Myanmar.

Military-ruled Myanmar has faced Western economic and political sanctions due to its poor human rights records and undermining democracy.

Tokyo is a top donor to Myanmar and has relations with the country’s military. After the coup, Japan froze all new aid but did not impose any individual sanctions.

In May, when Japanese journalist Kitazumi was released, the junta said it was “in consideration of cordial relations between Myanmar and Japan.”

Japan decided in September to halt a training program for members of Myanmar’s military starting next year over the junta’s executions of pro-democracy activists.

“It’s time for Japan to stop playing games and move to support real international sanctions that will squeeze the junta’s revenue sources,” Phil Robertson of Human Rights Watch told AFP.

ss/rs (AP, AFP, Reuters, dpa)

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