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Myanmar charges Japanese journalist with spreading fake news

Images of Toru Kubota, a Japanese journalist detained in Myanmar while covering a protest, are displayed at the Japan Press Club in Tokyo, Wednesday, Aug. 3, 2022. Friends of Kubota gathered at the club calling for his immediate release. (AP Photo/Yuri Kageyama)

BANGKOK (AP) — A Japanese video journalist detained in Myanmar while covering a brief pro-democracy march has been charged with violating a law against spreading false or alarming news, the Southeast Asian country’s military government announced Thursday.

Toru Kubota, a Tokyo-based documentary filmmaker, was arrested Saturday by plainclothes police after taking images of the protest.

He is the latest of about 140 journalists arrested since the military seized power last year from the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi. More than half have been released, but the media remains under tight restrictions.

A military information office, the Tatmadaw True News Information Team, said in a statement that Kubota was charged with incitement, specifically causing fear, spreading false news, or agitating against a government employee. It carries a penalty of up to three years in prison. Most of Myanmar’s imprisoned journalists were charged under the same law.

Kubota is also charged with violating visa regulations The statement said Kubota arrived in Yangon from Thailand on July 1 with a tourist visa.

Kubota is the fifth foreign journalist detained in Myanmar, after U.S. citizens Nathan Maung and Danny Fenster, who worked for local publications, and freelancers Robert Bociaga of Poland and Yuki Kitazumi of Japan. They were all eventually deported.

The army’s takeover was opposed by widespread peaceful protests that were suppressed with lethal force. Opposition continues with peaceful flash protests in cities and towns, and armed resistance in the countryside.

According to a detailed tally by the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, at least 2,148 civilians have been killed by the security forces and 14,970 arrested since the military took power.

The military statement said Kubota was detained in Yangon’s South Dagon township while taking pictures and videos of 10-15 protesters. It said he confessed to police that he had contacted participants in the protest a day earlier to arrange to film it.

The statement didn’t mention where he is being held. Two protesters in Saturday’s march were also arrested, according to the protest organizers, but there was no comment about them from the military.

Japanese Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Seiji Kihara said on Monday that “a Japanese male citizen in his 20s” was arrested Saturday while filming a demonstration in Yangon and that Japanese Embassy officials have requested his early release.

Friends of Kubota in Japan on Wednesday called for his immediate release, and an online petition has collected more than 41,000 signatures demanding his freedom.

A graduate of Tokyo’s Keio University with a master’s degree from the University of the Arts London, Kubota, 26, has done assignments for Yahoo! News Japan, Vice Japan and Al Jazeera English.

His work has focused on ethnic conflicts, immigrants and refugee issues, including the plight of Myanmar’s persecuted Rohingya Muslim minority.

The Associated Press

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