Japanese filmmaker sentenced to ten years in prison in Myanmar

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) demands the immediate and unconditional release of Toru Kubota, a Japanese documentary filmmaker who has been sentenced to ten years in prison in Myanmar on charges of sedition and “causing fear,” and calls on the Japanese authorities to apply the utmost pressure for his release.

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Update (12 October 2022)
The military court that passed two prison sentences on Toru Kubota, a seven-year one and a three-year one, announced on 12 October that they will run concurrently but imposed an additional three-year one for an alleged immigration law violation, with the result that his total effective sentence is still ten years. RSF condemns this crude ploy by a judicial system controlled by Myanmar’s generals and demands the documentary filmmaker’s immediate and unconditional release.

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Arrested two months ago, Kubota was convicted in complete secrecy yesterday (5 October) by a military court in Insein prison, in a suburb of Yangon, Myanmar’s largest city, receiving seven years in prison on the sedition charge and an additional three years under penal code section 505 (b), a vague law that penalises “causing fear or alarm to the public.”

“We demand the immediate and unconditional release of Toru Kubota, who has been subjected to arbitrary arrest, fabricated evidence and a summary trial behind closed doors – treatment that is symptomatic of the military junta’s abysmal disregard for the rule of law,” said Daniel Bastard, the head of RSF’s Asia-Pacific desk.

“As Myanmar’s generals have become accustomed to using foreign journalists as bargaining chips in their relations with foreign governments, we urge Japanese foreign minister Hayashi Yoshimasa to use the utmost firmness to obtain this filmmaker’s release.”

Kubota was arrested on 30 July shortly after covering a flash mob protest on a Yangon street. The security forces subsequently circulated a photo on social media showing him holding a banner with three other people, which seems to have been used to support the charges brought against him. But RSF’s enquiries established that this photo could only have been taken after his arrest and that he must have been forced to pose for it.

According to RSF’s press freedom barometer, at least 68 journalists are currently detained in Myanmar, of whom Kubota is the only foreigner. Another Japanese journalist, Yuki Kitazumi, the US journalists Nathan Maung and Danny Fenster, and the Polish journalist Robert Bociaga were previously detained before eventually being released and expelled.

Myanmar is ranked 176th out of 180 countries in RSF's 2022 World Press Freedom Index.

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