Japan’s top government spokesman on Tuesday demanded security forces in Myanmar release a Japanese journalist detained for allegedly spreading “fake news” after covering protests against the military junta that seized power in a February coup.
Yuki Kitazumi, 45, was taken from his home in Myanmar’s largest city Yangon on Sunday and is being held in prison, according to the Japanese Embassy in the Southeast Asian country.
“Japan considers the way in which the situation has been handled, including the fact he was sent to prison before sentencing, unacceptable,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato told reporters.
“We have lodged a protest with the Myanmar side regarding this point, and we are calling for the Japanese national in question to be swiftly released,” Kato said, adding the embassy is trying to obtain details on the incident, including what the procedure going forward will look like.
After ousting the democratically elected government led by Aung San Suu Kyi, the Myanmar military implemented legal changes making the spreading of fake news and fanning of social unrest punishable by up to three years in prison.
A freelance journalist who previously worked at the Tokyo-based Nikkei business daily, Kitazumi has been writing about the protests for Japanese media outlets and posting about the situation on social media. He was also briefly detained by security forces while covering a protest in Yangon on Feb. 26.
The embassy said Kitazumi has not suffered any injuries and is being held at Insein prison in Yangon where many political detainees are imprisoned.
According to posts on social media, some people saw Kitazumi forced to raise his hands and kneel down by security forces who brought cardboard boxes out from his house after searching it.
Local people responded to Kitazumi’s detention by saying they wished he would soon be freed by security forces.
A social media user named Aung Lin posted a message saying “Release the Japanese reporter immediately!” and another user, Moe Myint, wrote “wishing him to be free from harm and for quick release.”
The press has been caught in the junta’s crackdown as the military attempts to tighten control over the flow of information, throttling internet access and revoking the licenses of five local media outlets.
Authorities in Myanmar have been charging journalists with a section of the country’s penal code which criminalizes spreading dissent and false news against the military.
At least 34 journalists and photographers remain in custody across Myanmar, according to monitoring group Reporting ASEAN.
More than 700 people have been killed by Myanmar’s security forces and more than 4,200 have been arrested, charged or sentenced since the coup, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, a human rights group monitoring the situation.
The violent crackdown on protestors has drawn international condemnation, with the United States and the European Union imposing sanctions on military leaders and their financial interests.
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