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Myanmar junta charges Japanese journalist with encouraging dissent

YANGON (AFP) – A Japanese journalist detained in Myanmar has been charged with breaching immigration law and encouraging dissent against the military, the ruling junta said yesterday.

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 penalty of five years in prison.

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

Images of Toru Kubota are displayed at the Japan Press Club in Tokyo. PHOTO: AP

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.”

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

Kubota had arrived in Myanmar on July 14 and was filming a “documentary featuring a Myanmar person”, his friend Yoshitaka Nitta told a press conference in Tokyo on Wednesday.

He is the fifth foreign journalist to be detained in Myanmar, after United States (US) citizens Nathan Maung and Danny Fenster, Robert Bociaga of Poland and Yuki Kitazumi of Japan – all of whom were later 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.

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