BANGKOK (AP) — A Japanese freelance journalist in Myanmar who was jailed on charges of spreading false news or information will be freed by the country’s ruling junta as a gesture of friendship with Japan, Myanmar state media said Thursday.
The announcement on the army-run Myawaddy TV said Yuki Kitazumi had been arrested on April 18 for “inciting” the country’s anti-military civil disobedience movement and riots.
“Although the journalist is a lawbreaker, the case will be closed and he will be released at the request of the Special Envoy of the Japanese Government for National Reconciliation in Myanmar, in view of the close ties and future relations between Myanmar and Japan,” said a news reader, quoting an official statement from the junta, formally called the State Administrative Council.
The military seized power on Feb. 1, ousting the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi. It has faced large and constant popular opposition, which it has tried to suppress with the use of force that has cost hundreds of lives and by muzzling the news media.
Japan has criticized the military government’s deadly crackdown on opposition but has taken a milder approach than the United States and some other countries that imposed sanctions against members of the junta.
Kitazumi, a former reporter for Japan’s Nikkei business news, had also been charged with violating visa regulations. He was the first foreign journalist to be charged under a statute which the state press has described as aiming at “fake news.”
He has posted reports and views about developments in Myanmar on Facebook. Hours before his arrest, he posted a video showing Myanmar citizens gathering at a Tokyo temple to pay tribute to people killed by Myanmar security forces trying to quell protests.
Kitazumi had been detained briefly by police in late February while covering pro-democracy protests in Myanmar.
The announcement that he had been granted clemency came a day after a military court sentenced a Myanmar journalist to three years in prison for his reporting on similar charges.
Min Nyo is a correspondent for the Democratic Voice of Burma, an online and broadcast news agency, which has continued to operate despite being banned by the junta.
A statement issued by DVB said Min Nyo had been covering a March 3 anti-junta protest in the town of Pyay, 260 kilometers (160 miles) northwest of Yangon when he was arrested and severely beaten by police.
About 80 journalists have been arrested since the military’s takeover. Roughly half are still detained and most of them are being held under charges like the one for which Min Nyo was convicted, as are many activists opposed to the military regime.
Rights group Amnesty International said Min Nyo’s case showed the ruthlessness of the junta and the risks faced by journalists exposing the junta’s abuses.
“Min Nyo’s conviction must be quashed, and he should be released immediately – along with all other journalists, activists and human rights defenders imprisoned and detained solely for their peaceful opposition to the military coup,” Amnesty Deputy Regional Director Emerlynne Gil said in a statement.