The following is a translation of a statement released by the Association of Japanese Journalists Working in Dangerous Areas seeking the release of Japanese journalist Yuki Kitazumi, who has been detained in Myanmar in the wake of a military coup.
We protest against the detention in Myanmar of Japanese journalist Yuki Kitazumi, and call for his release.
On the night of April 18, Mr. Kitazumi was detained at his home by security authorities in Myanmar, where a military coup has taken place, and he was transferred to a prison.
The military coup occurred in Myanmar on Feb. 1, and police and the military have opened fire on public demonstrators who have protested against it. To date at least 700 citizens have been killed and at least 3,000 have been detained. At least 70 journalists, photographers and other members of the media have also been arrested, and many mainstream media organizations have been stripped of their licenses. The detention of Mr. Kitazumi is part of the clampdown on journalism by Myanmar's military forces.
We at the Association of Japanese Journalists Working in Dangerous Areas protest against the detention of Mr. Kitazumi, who conveyed the situation in Myanmar to Japan, call for his immediate release, and strongly condemn the facts that the process of democratization in the country has been trampled upon and military violence toward citizens is continuing.
After working as a newspaper reporter in Japan, Mr. Kitazumi traveled to Myanmar in 2014 and started an editing production business, gathering news and writing about the country. After the coup d'etat, while the military refused to allow foreign journalists to enter the country, Mr. Kitazumi dispatched messages through social media and conveyed the local situation through Japanese media organizations as one of the few Japanese journalists in Myanmar.
In an interview with the Japanese media, Mr. Kitazumi shared the opinions of people in the country, saying, "The voices of those saying they want people across the world to know that terrible things are happening in Myanmar are very strong. They think that the acts of brutality by the military cannot be stopped by peaceful demonstrations alone, and want international society to apply pressure."
Mr. Kitazumi was arrested on a charge of spreading "fake news" under section 505A of the Penal Code, just as local journalists have been. Restrictions on free speech in which the government has suppressed information from citizens and labeled reports that it has found inconvenient as "fake news" have become a familiar ploy of authoritarian governments of the world in recent years. After the coup d'etat in Myanmar, the military altered the Penal Code, and section 505A was introduced.
The unjustified arrest of and crackdown on journalists by the Myanmar military not only silences the voices of Myanmar's people; it is an attempt to hide the state of affairs in Myanmar from the world. In particular, the detention of Mr. Kitazumi, who had transmitted information to Japan, came out of fear that the truth about violations of the human rights of people in Myanmar would spread in Japan, an important supporter for Myanmar, and it infringes on our right to know.
Over the 10 years between 2011 and 2020, the Japanese government extended official development assistance grant aid to Myanmar on over 100 occasions, with the total amount exceeding 140 billion yen (over $1.28 billion). In 2020, Japan provided vehicles and radios to Myanmar's police force, supporting security measures. Furthermore, at least 400 Japanese companies have made forays into the country.
The breakdown of the process of democratization of Myanmar and the tragic and unjust violation of human rights is evident through Mr. Kitazumi's reports and his arrest, and Japanese companies' investment and expansion into the country and the Japanese government's support should accordingly be halted immediately.
We understand that the detention of Mr. Kitazumi is one part of the serious violations of the human rights of Myanmar's citizens, and we call on the Japanese government, companies and civil society to take all possible steps to secure the release of Mr. Kitazumi and ensure that Myanmar can see an end to the violence toward citizens and the suppression of free speech, and return to the process of democratization as soon as possible.
April 30, 2021
Association of Japanese Journalists Working in Dangerous Areas
Intermediaries: Toshikuni Doi, Yasunori Kawakami, Jiro Ishimaru, Takeharu Watai, Koji Igarashi, Hiroshi Takahashi
About the Association of Japanese Journalists Working in Dangerous Areas
The association was founded in January 2015 by journalists involved in reporting on dangerous areas following the murder in Syria of journalist Kenji Goto by the "Islamic State" extremist organization, to probe incidents in conflict areas, disasters, and disaster zones, with a keen awareness of the need to exchange and accumulate information on safety measures and crisis management.
Through a belief that it had to convey to ordinary citizens the significance of reporting on areas of conflict and disaster scenes even if it put the journalist in danger and win their support and understanding, following discussion transcending the frameworks of freelance and organizational journalism, the association released a work in December 2015 titled "Journalist wa naze senjo ni iku no ka -- Shuzai genba kara no jiko kensho" (Why do journalists go to war zones -- self-inspection from the scene), published by Shueisha Shinsho. Then in August 2019 it released another title, "Jiko kensho -- kikenchi hodo" (Self-inspection -- reporting in dangers areas), also published by Shueisha Shinsho.
The association releases reports on news coverage in dangerous areas, and holds online study meetings. Its website can be accessed at http://www.kikenchisyuzai.org/ (in Japanese).