Myanmar junta charges Japanese journalist with encouraging dissent

A group of activists hold placards of Japanese citizen Toru Kubota, who is detained in Myanmar, during a rally in front of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Tokyo on July 31, 2022. Photo by Philip FONG / AFP

Yangon, Myanmar -- A Japanese journalist detained in Myanmar has been charged with breaching immigration law and encouraging dissent against the military, the junta said Thursday.

Myanmar's military has clamped down on press freedoms since its coup last year, arresting reporters and photographers, as well as revoking broadcasting licences as the country plunged into chaos.

Toru Kubota, who was held while covering a protest in 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 criminalises 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.

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 Yangon's Insein prison, a security source told AFP, requesting anonymity.

"He's in good health and embassy officials have visited him already at the police station where he has been detained," a security source told AFP.

According to a profile on FilmFreeway, he has previously made documentaries on Myanmar's Muslim Rohingya minority and "refugees and ethnic issues in Myanmar".

He is the fifth foreign journalist detained in Myanmar after US 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.

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, according to a local monitoring group.

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

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

© Agence France-Presse

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