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Japan documentary filmmaker gets multiyear prison sentence in Myanmar

Toru Kubota is pictured in Tokyo on Oct. 5, 2018. (Mainichi)

BANGKOK (Kyodo) -- A Japanese documentary filmmaker detained in Myanmar's largest city Yangon in July was sentenced Wednesday to seven years in prison for sedition and violating a law on electronic communications, a military spokesperson's office said.

    A junta-controlled court gave Toru Kubota three years for sedition and seven years for electronic communications-related violations, according to a source familiar with the case. The office said in a statement on Thursday that he is to serve the terms concurrently.

    Kubota was detained by authorities on July 30 while filming a protest against the military, which seized power from the democratically elected government in a February 2021 coup.

    The military claims he entered the Southeast Asian country from neighboring Thailand using a tourist visa, and that he was participating in the demonstration and communicating with protesters while filming.

    The military also alleges Kubota previously reported on the Rohingya Muslim minority group and disseminated false information. The Rohingya have been persecuted in the Buddhist-majority country, with hundreds of thousands of them uprooted and forced to flee to neighboring Bangladesh in recent years.

    Kubota, who has been detained in Yangon's notorious Insein Prison for political prisoners, was sentenced by a court set up inside it, according to the source. The military spokesperson's office said he is still facing trial for an immigration-related charge.

    The next hearing for the case is scheduled for next Wednesday.

    Kubota has no health issues, according to the Japanese Embassy in Yangon. While Tokyo plans to continue calling for Kubota's swift release, there is so far no prospect of that happening soon.

    A spokesman for the military said in August that authorities would consider prosecuting Kubota for alleged electronic communications-related violations, but there was no information about whether they had followed up on that -- until Wednesday, when the court issued a seven-year sentence.

    In junta-ruled Myanmar, Japanese freelance journalist Yuki Kitazumi was arrested in April last year and indicted for spreading false news reports. He was released the following month and returned to Japan.

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