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Radio Free Asia

Japanese filmmaker sentenced to seven years in prison by Myanmar court

Toru Kubota was sentenced to seven and three years, to be served concurrently, and faces a further charge.

By RFA Burmese 2022.10.06 -- Japanese documentary filmmaker Toru Kubota has been sentenced to seven years in prison on two counts, Myanmar's military junta information group said on Thursday.

It said he was found guilty the previous day of defaming the state and violating the Electronic Communication Act by a military court at Yangon's Insein prison.

He was sentenced to three years for the first charge and seven years for the second but the sentences will be served concurrently. Kubota still faces a third charge of breaching immigration law.

"Section 13 (1) [of the Myanmar Immigration Recent Provisions Act of 1947] refers to charging foreigners. The maximum sentence is two years in prison and also a fine. Since it is a case handed down by a military court, we can only watch," a local lawyer told RFA on condition of anonymity.

Kubota, 26, was arrested while filming an anti-regime protest in Yangon's South Dagon township on July 30.

The Japanese Ambassador to Myanmar was allowed to talk to Kubota by phone on Aug. 22 and asked for permission to meet with him. The request was rejected due to alleged concerns over the COVID-19 pandemic. RFA contacted the Japanese Embassy in Yangon for comment on Thursday but received no response.

The Japanese government demanded his immediate release and protests against his detention were held in Tokyo on July 31.

Kubota is the fifth foreign journalist to be detained since the Feb. 1, 2021 coup, according to the AP news agency. It said Nathan Maung and Danny Fenster from the U.S., who worked for local organizations, and Polish freelancer Robert Bociaga were all deported before the end of their sentences. Japanese freelancer Yuki Kitazumi was freed before his trial, after a month of detention.

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) condemned the secrecy of the trial and the sentencing based on vague laws, and called on Japan to "apply the utmost pressure" for Kubota's release.

"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."

Updated to add response by Reporters Without Borders.

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