• Kyodo, Reuters


A Japanese freelance journalist detained by security forces in Myanmar in mid-April and accused of spreading “fake news” has been released and departed Yangon for Japan on Friday.

Japanese Embassy staff met with Yuki Kitazumi, 45, at Yangon International Airport and found him in good health, Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi told reporters.

The journalist was arrested in Yangon on April 18 and a military spokesman said Thursday night he had been moved from prison to a police facility.

A state-run newspaper reported on Friday that Kitazumi had been indicted for supporting the anti-coup civil disobedience movement and riots, and for not complying with visa regulations.

The State Administration Council Information Team, the military junta’s top decision-making body, said the decision to release him was made “in consideration of cordial relations between Myanmar and Japan up to now and in view of future bilateral relations, and upon the request of the Japanese government special envoy on Myanmar’s national reconciliation,” according to a report by a state-run TV on Thursday night.

The journalist, who previously worked at the Tokyo-based Nikkei business daily, had covered anti-government protests and posted on social media information deemed to be critical of the military.

Kitazumi had been detained previously while covering an anti-military protest on Feb. 26, but he was released later in the day.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato, Japan’s top government spokesman, had demanded during a regular briefing on April 20 that the security forces in Myanmar release Kitazumi.

Kitazumi could have faced a jail term of up to three years if convicted under the penal code as amended after the Feb. 1 military coup.

Local journalist gets three-year sentence

Only a day earlier, a Myanmar journalist who reported on the anti-junta protests was jailed for the full three years for incitement, his news organization said.

Min Nyo, who worked for the Democratic Voice of Burma (DVB) in Myanmar’s Bago region, was arrested on March 3 and found guilty by a military court in one of the first verdicts against media workers since the Feb. 1 coup.

“DVB demands the military authority release Min Nyo immediately, as well as other detained or convicted journalists around Myanmar,” it said.

He had been beaten by police and denied visits by his family, it said.

Myanmar has been in turmoil since the coup, with the military struggling to impose order amid a groundswell of public anger at its overthrow of Aung San Suu Kyi’s elected government.

Many journalists are among the nearly 4,900 people who have been arrested, according to the Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP) advocacy group.

DVB is among several news outlets that have had licenses revoked by the military, which has restricted internet access and used lethal force to suppress countrywide strikes and protests against it. More than 780 people have been killed by security forces, according to AAPP figures.

Three of DVB’s journalists were detained in northern Thailand this week for illegal entry after fleeing Myanmar. Human rights groups have pleaded with Thailand not to deport them.

Emerlynne Gil, Amnesty International’s Deputy Regional Director, said journalism had effectively been criminalized by Myanmar’s generals.

“They risk life and liberty to shed light on the military’s abuses. The military authorities are ruthless, determined to crush dissent by silencing those who seek to expose their crimes,” Gil said in a statement.

Resistance to the junta has intensified in recent weeks, with hostilities reigniting between the military and several ethnic minority armies, fatal attacks on junta-appointed administrators, and ambushes of police and soldiers by militias calling themselves People’s Defence Forces.

MRTV announced on Thursday that martial law had been declared due to unrest in Mindut in northwestern Chin State. Resistance groups there say there has been heavy fighting between armed civilians and junta troops.

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