Japanese documentary filmmaker and journalist Kubota Toru was arrested in Yangon, Myanmar on July 30 while covering a protest against the junta.
Myanmar’s military dictatorship has accused Kubota of incitement and violation of visa and immigration rules. After his trial began on August 16, authorities said they were considering filing additional charges against the journalist for violating the country’s electronic laws.
Kubota is believed to be held in Myanmar’s infamous Insein prison. His Twitter account has remained inactive since before his incarceration. So far, various groups and individuals have called for Kubota’s immediate release.
Kubota has previously worked with Yahoo! News Japan, Vice Japan and Al Jazeera English, and has also made several documentary films on the plight of the Rohingya, a persecuted ethnic group that is not recognized by Myanmar.
After seizing power in a February 2021 coup, Myanmar’s military restricted media coverage of the country. Dozens of journalists have so far been arrested for allegedly supporting pro-democracy forces. Kubota is the fifth foreign journalist arrested by the junta. Kitazumi Yuki, another Japanese filmmaker, was detained for 25 days before his release in May 2021.
Following Myanmar’s 2021 military coup and subsequent violence, the Japanese government publicly vowed to cut ties with the country. However, deep connections remain. Japanese companies continue to invest in Myanmar, while Japan continues to train Myanmar’s military.
The Tokyo-based Japan-Myanmar Association declined to comment on Kubota’s detention and other human rights abuses while continuing to promote investment in the military dictatorship.
A Japanese MP, Watanabe Hiromichi, visited Myanmar on August 12 and met with members of the military clique that rules the country, including Min Aung Hlain, who is commander-in-chief of the armed forces and head of the unelected government. .
In a Facebook post, Watanabe said he was optimistic that Kubota would soon be released:
[…] 今回 の 訪問 の 最 大 の 目的 は 、 ミャンマー で 拘束 さ れ て 久保田 徹 徹 の 即時 解放 に 向け て アウンフライン 首相 首相 に 直 談判 する ため です です です です です です
ミャンマー と は 、 二十 数 年らい の 関わり の ある 私 にとって はじめ て の 大 仕事 です です 定 定 首相 、 、 「近い うち 解放 する する」 その 時 後日 後日 後日 連絡 する 」」 と こと まし まし た 時 について について について について について についてする」ののでありましたた。。。。。
[…] The main purpose of my visit was to negotiate directly with Acting Prime Minister Min Aung Hlaing for the immediate release of Mr. Toru Kubota, who is being held in Myanmar. This is the most serious task I have faced in the twenty years that I have been linked to Myanmar. Acting Prime Minister of Myanmar [Min Aung Hlain] said that Kubota would be released in the near future, and that [Min Aung Hlain] would let me know the date and time at a later date. I think Kubota will be released soon. Furthermore, the current situation in Yangon and Naypyidaw [the capital of Myanmar] looks peaceful.
However, it is unclear whether public demands for the charges against Kubota to be dropped would continue. Following Watanabe’s visit, the Burmese junta also said it was considering new charges against Kubota.
Uchiyama Naoki, a Kubota colleague, has launched an online petition urging the Japanese government to secure the filmmaker’s immediate freedom. He also clarified that Kubota’s documentary focuses on the “loneliness of a Burmese man” and denies that it deals with “political turmoil”. According to Uchiyama’s petition:
The purpose of his visit to Myanmar was to film a documentary he has been working on for several years and it is NOT for political unrest. Toru has traveled to Myanmar over a dozen times for interviews and detailed plans have always been prepared in advance.
International PEN groups in many countries have joined PEN Japan in calling on the Myanmar government to release Kubota and other journalists detained simply for carrying out their work. Kirino Natsuo, President of the International PEN Japan Pen Club, said:
We call for freedom of expression and the protection of journalists in Myanmar and abroad. And we urge the Japanese government and the international community to take immediate action to ensure Mr. Kubota’s safety.
There have been public protests in Japan in support of Kubota and demanding his release from Myanmar’s military dictatorship:
A group of activists hold signs of Japanese citizen Toru Kubota, detained in Myanmar, during a rally outside the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Tokyo on July 31, 2022. Philip FONG / AFP#ToruKubota#Burma pic.twitter.com/mqKAxlRGEd
— Mizzima News (@MizzimaNews) July 31, 2022
A demonstration was organized in front of the Myanmar Embassy in Japan to express support for the detained journalist. The protest brought together Kubota’s friends and Myanmar nationals demanding the journalist’s release.
This video report by independent media group Mizzima presents highlights of the protest action: