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Japanese filmmaker detained after attending protest, Myanmar activists say

The government of Japan is pressing for the release of the man, who had been filming a demonstration in Yangon against recent executions carried out by the military regime.
Image: A group of activists hold placards of Japanese citizen Toru Kubota, who is detained in Myanmar, during a rally in front of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Tokyo on July 31, 2022.
Dozens of people in Tokyo held a rally outside Japan’s foreign ministry on Sunday in support of a Japanese filmmaker and others detained in Myanmar. Philip Fong / AFP - Getty Images
/ Source: Reuters

Authorities in Myanmar detained a Japanese documentary filmmaker after he attended a protest in the city of Yangon on the weekend against recent executions carried out by the military government, activists said on Monday.

The activists and Myanmar media reports have identified the Japanese man as Toru Kubota.

Reuters could not independently confirm the activists’ accounts and the media reports and a spokesman for Myanmar’s junta did not answer a telephone call seeking comment.

A Japanese government spokesman in Tokyo said that a Japanese man has been detained in Myanmar and the government was calling for his release as soon as possible.

Japanese officials declined to identify the man.

Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Seiji Kihara told a news conference that the man was in his 20s and had been filming a demonstration on Saturday. The Japanese Embassy in Myanmar was pressing for his release, he said.

Dozens of people in Tokyo held a rally outside Japan’s foreign ministry on Sunday in support of Kubota and other detainees in Myanmar.

An activist who attended Saturday’s protest said he saw Kubota at the rally at around 3 p.m. in Yangon’s South Dagon district and that Kubota had left soon afterward and headed to a bus station.

“As far as we know, he was the first person arrested. Three others were detained at around 3:30 p.m. at the bus station,” said the activist, who is a leader of the Yangon Democratic Youth Strike organization.

“We’re worried about their safety,” said the activist, who declined to be identified for security reasons.

Another activist involved in organizing the protest, who also declined to be identified, confirmed the arrests.

Since the military seized power in Myanmar in February last year, nearly 15,000 people have been arrested and 11,820 remain in detention, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, an activist group.

The Saturday protest was a rare show of defiance in Myanmar’s biggest city after the ruling military announced on Monday last week it had executed four democracy activists accused of aiding “terror acts.”

Last year, Japanese journalist Yuki Kitazumi was arrested in Myanmar and charged with spreading false news during a crackdown on media after the military coup. He was later allowed to leave Myanmar and returned to Japan.

Myanmar soldiers shot and killed a Japanese journalist during a pro-democracy demonstration in Yangon in 2007.

According to a personal website featuring his portfolio, Kubota is a Tokyo-based documentary filmmaker, with a primary focus on ethnic conflicts, immigrants and refugee issues.

It said he has worked with media companies such as Yahoo! News Japan, VICE Japan and Al Jazeera English.

Myanmar rights activist Thet Swe Win, who is based in Thailand, said Kubota had made a documentary about him and the Japanese filmmaker had told him last month he had received a visa to return to Myanmar.