(Bloomberg) -- Myanmar’s military government has sentenced a Japanese filmmaker to seven years in prison for encouraging dissent against the regime and violating a telecommunications law.
It remains unclear if Toru Kubota, 26, will serve the full prison term, or be deported by the junta to maintain relations with the Japanese government. Initial media reports quoting diplomatic sources said he had been handed a 10-year sentence.
The State Administration Council’s information team said Kubota was convicted of violating two charges; sedition under the colonial-era Penal Code, and Section 33(A) of the Telecommunications Law. He’s awaiting a verdict for another charge under the immigration law.
Kubota was arrested at an anti-regime rally in the southern New Dagon township of Yangon on July 30, along with two Myanmar citizens.
Japan’s Ambassador to Myanmar, Maruyama Ichiro, said he had already asked Myanmar authorities to release Kubota, but had been told a “decision will be made after all verdicts are pronounced.” He added that Kubota had been allowed to speak to his family on the phone “about 3-4 times upon Myanmar authorities’ approval.”
The Japanese filmmaker is not the first international journalist to have been targeted by the military junta since last year’s coup. In November, American journalist Danny Fenster was sentenced to 11 years in prison for inciting dissent against the military, but was released and deported a few days later. Yuki Kitazumi, a freelance Japanese journalist, was also arrested last year and charged with spreading fake news but was later released upon the Japanese government’s request.
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Since the military toppled the Aung San Suu Kyi-led civilian government journalists have been routinely targeted as part of the junta’s crackdown on freedom of expression. The Committee to Protect Journalists has ranked Myanmar as the world’s second-worst jailer of journalists in its most recent annual report. A local press freedom group reported earlier this year the junta had arrested more than 130 journalists in Myanmar since the coup.
Tokyo remains close to Myanmar as part of its strategy of countering China’s influence, and to protect Japanese investments in a wide range of sectors including those in the Thilawa special economic zone. Military ties between Japan and Myanmar have remained strong, though the Japanese government announced last month it will suspend a training program for Myanmar military personnel.
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