Japan asks Myanmar junta to release arrested journalist

International

Zay Yar Lwin, center left in white, and Paing Pyo Min,center right in white, – both members of the Peacock Generation, a traditional theatrical troupe sentenced to prison in 2019 for their gibes about the military, walk through a crowd after their release from Insein prison in Yangon, Myanmar, Saturday, April 17, 2021. Myanmar’s junta on Saturday announced it pardoned and released more than 23,000 prisoners to mark the new year holiday, but it wasn’t immediately clear if they included pro-democracy activists who were detained in the wake of the February coup. (AP Photo)

TOKYO (AP) — Japan’s government said Monday it is asking Myanmar to release a Japanese journalist who was arrested by security forces in its largest city of Yangon the previous day.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato told reporters that his government is asking Myanmar authorities to explain the arrest and release him as soon as possible.

He did not identify the detainee, but Japanese media said he is Yuki Kitazumi, a former Nikkei business newspaper reporter currently based in Yangon as a freelance journalist.

“We will continue asking the Myanmar side for his early release, while doing our utmost for the protection of Japanese citizens in that country,” Kato said.

Japan’s Foreign Ministry later said the journalist was arrested at his home on Sunday night and is being detained at Yangon’s Insein Prison, where political prisoners are frequently held. It said Japanese Embassy officials have not been given access to him.

Kyodo News agency reported that he was arrested on suspicion of spreading “fake” news.

Kitazumi 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 in the Myanmar military junta’s crackdown on protests against its Feb. 1 seizure of power from an elected government.

Kitazumi was detained briefly by police in late February while covering pro-democracy protests in Myanmar.

Japan has stepped up its criticism of 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.

On Saturday, the junta released more than 23,000 prisoners to mark the traditional new year’s holiday. At least three had been political prisoners, but it wasn’t immediately clear if any activists detained during the post-coup crackdown were freed.

According to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, which monitors casualties and arrests, government forces have killed at least 728 protesters and bystanders since the takeover. The group says 3,141 people, including ousted civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi, are in detention.

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