A Japanese video journalist covering protests against military rule in the country’s largest city has been detained by security forces in Myanmar, pro-democracy activists said on Sunday.
Toru Kubota, a Tokyo-based documentary filmmaker, was arrested by plainclothes police after a flash protest in Yangon on Saturday, according to Type Phone, a leader of the Yangon Democratic Youth Strike group that organized the rally. Like many activists, he uses a pseudonym to protect against military officers.
Myanmar’s military seized power in February last year by overthrowing the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi, and has since cracked down on dissent.
At least 2,138 civilians have been killed by security forces and 14,917 arrested since the military takeover, according to a detailed tally compiled by Myanmar’s Assistance Association for Political Prisoners.
Last week, the military government drew sharp international criticism after it announced that it had executed four activists convicted of terrorism in secret trials.
Type Phone told The Associated Press that two protesters were also arrested and detained at a township police station in Saturday’s march. The arrests were also reported by several other anti-government groups.
A Japanese embassy official told The Associated Press that a Japanese national was reported to be detained, but declined to reveal details. The man is being held for questioning at a police station in Yangon and the embassy was taking action to release him, said the official, who asked not to be identified because he was authorized to share information with the media. was not.
The government has not announced Kubota’s arrest, and state-run dailies, which usually report on the arrests of pro-democracy protesters, did not mention it either.
However, pro-military accounts on the Telegram messaging app said the Japanese were arrested not for taking pictures but for participating in the protest by holding banners. Type Phone said Kubota’s photos were taken after his arrest with banners uploaded to Telegram channels indicating they were done under pressure.
During the march, about a dozen demonstrators protested the military takeover, and shortly after, the crowds dispersed in the surrounding streets.
“He was taking a picture with his camera from a short distance from our strike yesterday,” Type Phone said of Kubota. “When we called off the strike and dispersed, he was arrested by the security forces in plain clothes and put in a Probox car.” The vehicle is commonly used by taxis in Yangon, and the type phone said that the car in question also had taxi markings.
According to a portfolio of Kubota’s online work, her primary focus was on ethnic conflicts, immigrant and refugee issues, and she has tried to highlight the conditions of “marginalized, disadvantaged communities”.
It says it has worked with media companies like Yahoo! News Japan, Vice Japan and Al Jazeera English.
Almost all independent journalism in Myanmar is done underground or in exile.
The military government has arrested about 140 journalists, of whom about 55 are held in custody awaiting charges or trial. Kubota is the fifth foreign journalist to be detained, after American citizens Nathan Maung and Danny Fenster, who worked for local publications, and Poland’s freelancer Robert Bosiaga and Japan’s Yuki Kitazumi, all of whom were eventually expelled. went.
Most of those detained are still being held on charges of creating fear, spreading false news or agitating against a government employee. The charges carry up to three years in prison.