Japanese journalist deported from Myanmar

Yuki Kitazumi had been held in Yangon's Insein prison since his arrest in April. - Reuters

YANGON (AFP): A Japanese journalist arrested while covering the aftermath of the Myanmar coup has been deported, Tokyo said Friday (May 14), after charges against him were dropped as a diplomatic gesture.

Yuki Kitazumi, held in Yangon's Insein prison since his arrest last month, was one of at least 80 reporters detained during the junta's crackdown on anti-coup dissent.

Security forces have killed more than 780 people since protests erupted following the Feb 1 coup that ousted civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi, according to a local monitoring group.

Japanese Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi confirmed that the journalist left Myanmar for Japan on Friday afternoon.

Motegi said Japan had used "various channels" to press for his release and that it had been "tough work".

"As a result of those efforts, yesterday (May 13) the Myanmar authorities announced that they would withdraw the indictment," he told reporters in Tokyo.

The journalist is expected to touch down in Japan on Friday night and he is in good health, Motegi said.

The minister also announced that Japan has offered Myanmar US$4 million in emergency food aid via the World Food Programme.

The support is expected to help 600,000 people.

"Food supply to the impoverished population in Yangon region is rapidly deteriorating amid this situation, and they are facing difficulties in even maintaining the most basic living conditions," the Japanese Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

In late March, Japan had announced it was suspending new aid to Myanmar in response to the coup.

"We have continued our calls on Myanmar to immediately stop violence, release those who are detained (political prisoners) and return to the democratic political process," Motegi said.

Myanmar state broadcaster MRTV announced Thursday that the charges against journalist Kitazumi were being dropped "in order to reconcile with Japan and improve our relationship".

State media said an earlier investigation found that Kitazumi "supported the protests".

He was charged under a newly revised provision in the penal code which criminalises spreading fake news, criticising the coup or encouraging disobedience among soldiers and civil servants.

Those convicted can face up to three years in jail.

Kitazumi, who had previously been arrested in February but released soon afterwards, was the first foreign journalist to be charged since the coup.

A Polish photographer arrested while covering a protest in March was freed and deported after nearly two weeks in custody.

As well as arresting reporters and photographers, the junta has also revoked broadcasting licences and ordered regular internet outages as it seeks to suppress news of the anti-coup protest movement.

On Wednesday, a reporter for independent media outlet DVB, Min Nyo, was sentenced to three years in jail for criminal mutiny.

Ko Aung Kyaw Oo, a former reporter for Tomorrow Journal, was arrested on Thursday afternoon, his son confirmed to AFP.

Forty-five journalists and photographers remain in custody across Myanmar, according to monitoring group Reporting Asean.

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