Japanese freelancer Yuki Kitazumi at an anti-coup protest in Yangon in early February. (Facebook / Yuki Kitazumi)
Japanese freelancer Yuki Kitazumi at an anti-coup protest in Yangon in early February. (Facebook / Yuki Kitazumi)

Japanese journalist charged in Yangon over ‘fake news’

Freelance reporter Yuki Kitazumi was arrested last month and charged on Monday – World Press Freedom Day – with spreading “fake news”, according to Kyodo news agency.

By AFP

Myanmar’s junta has charged a Japanese journalist under a “fake news” law, a report said Tuesday, in the latest blow to press freedom since the military seized power.

Freelance reporter Yuki Kitazumi was arrested last month at his Yangon apartment and charged on Monday – World Press Freedom Day – with spreading “fake news”, according to a report by Kyodo news agency.

Although the charge has not been confirmed, it is likely to be under Section 505A of the Penal Code. A clause added to the law after the February 1 coup made the spreading of “fake news” punishable by up to three years’ imprisonment.

Kitazumi is one of 50 journalists currently held in Myanmar as part of the junta’s crackdown on resistance to military rule. Several of these journalists are facing 505A charges.

Kyodo cited an unnamed Japanese embassy official saying Kitazumi had no health problems, despite spending several weeks in Yangon’s Insein Prison, which has a long and unsavoury reputation for holding political prisoners.

Kitazumi has been in custody since April 18 – the second time he had been arrested since the coup. In February, he was briefly held during a crackdown on protesters but was later released.

Japan, for years a top aid donor to Myanmar, has been pressing for his release.

“Naturally, we will continue to do our utmost for the early release of the Japanese national being held,” Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi told Japanese journalists during a trip to Britain, according to national broadcaster NHK.

A total of 766 civilians have been killed in the military crackdown on protests, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, a local monitoring group.

As well as arresting journalists, the generals have also sought to clamp down on news of the crisis by shuttering independent media outlets and throttling internet speeds.

The AAPP says there are now 50 journalists in custody, 25 of whom have been prosecuted, while arrest warrants are out for another 29.

Despite the dangers, protesters continue to take to the streets, with early-morning demonstrations on Tuesday in the city of Mandalay, as well as in Kachin State.

The military has defended its seizure of power, pointing to unsubstantiated fraud allegations in the November election, and has condemned protesters as “rioters” and “terrorists”.

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