Myanmar junta jails Japanese filmmaker for 10 years

Myanmar’s junta has jailed a Japanese filmmaker for 10 years, more than two months after he was arrested while filming an anti-coup protest, a military spokesman said on Thursday.

The military has cracked down on press freedom since its coup last year, arresting journalists and photographers and revoking broadcast licenses as the country descended into chaos.

Toru Kubota, 26, was arrested near an anti-government rally in Yangon’s commercial center in July with two Myanmar citizens.

He was sentenced to seven years in prison on Wednesday for violating a law that criminalizes the dissemination of information detrimental to the security, peace and tranquility of the state, a junta spokesman said in a statement. communicated.

He added that he was also sentenced to three years in prison for encouraging dissent against the military – a charge that has been widely used in the crackdown.

The sentences would be served concurrently, the junta statement added.

A diplomat from the Japanese embassy in Myanmar said Kubota was also charged with violating immigration law, with the next hearing scheduled for October 12.

Japan’s foreign ministry said it had provided consular support and would “continue to appeal to the Myanmar authorities for Mr Kubota’s early release”.

The filmmaker had arrived in Myanmar in July and was shooting a “documentary featuring a person from Myanmar”, his friend Yoshitaka Nitta told a press conference in Tokyo in August.

According to a profile on the FilmFreeway website, Kubota has previously made documentaries about Myanmar’s Rohingya Muslim minority and “refugees and ethnic issues in Myanmar.”

Japan is one of Myanmar’s biggest donors and has a long-standing relationship with the country’s military.

After the coup, Tokyo announced that it would end all further aid, although it refrained from imposing individual sanctions on military and police commanders.

Kubota’s imprisonment is a “slap in the face” for Tokyo, said Phil Robertson of Human Rights Watch.

“It’s time for Japan to stop playing games and act to support real international sanctions that will squeeze the junta’s revenue streams.”

In September, Japan’s defense ministry announced it would end a training program for members of Myanmar’s military from next year following the junta’s executions of four political prisoners.

The execution of the four by the junta in July, in the face of international calls for clemency, was Myanmar’s first use of the death penalty in decades and sparked international outrage.

Media watchdog Reporters Without Borders (RSF) said Kubota’s arrest and “trial behind closed doors…is symptomatic of the military junta’s abysmal disregard for the rule of law”.

RSF’s Asia-Pacific director, Daniel Bastard, urged Japan to stand firm and secure his release because “Myanmar generals have a habit of using foreign journalists as bargaining chips in their dealings with foreign governments”.

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

Fenster, who was detained in May last year as he tried to leave the country, faced a trial behind closed doors at Insein for unlawful association, incitement to the military and violation of rules on visas.

He was sentenced to 11 years in prison before being pardoned and deported.

As of March this year, 48 journalists remained in detention across the country, according to monitoring group Reporting ASEAN.

The army’s crackdown on dissent since toppling the government of Aung San Suu Kyi has claimed more than 2,300 civilian lives, according to a local watchdog group.

The junta blames anti-coup fighters for the deaths of nearly 3,900 civilians.

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