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Myanmar charges Japanese journalist with "fake news" as protests against coup leaders drag on

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Yangon — The Myanmar junta has charged a Japanese journalist under a "fake news" law, a report said Tuesday, in the latest blow to press freedom since the military seized power. Freelance reporter Yuki Kitazumi was arrested last month and charged on Monday — World Press Freedom Day — with spreading fake news, according to a report by Japan's Kyodo news agency.

Kitazumi is one of 50 journalists currently held in Myanmar, also known as Burma, as part of the junta's crackdown on widespread protests against the February 1 coup. Several Burmese journalists who work for foreign outlets, including an Associated Press photographer, have been arrested and charged with similar crimes since the coup, but Kitazumi is the first foreign journalist said to have been charged since the military takeover.

The country has been in turmoil since civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi's government was ousted, with more than 750 people killed as security forces struggle to quash near-daily demonstrations against their rule.

Kyodo cited an unnamed Japanese embassy official saying Kitazumi had no health problems, despite spending several weeks in Yangon's Insein prison, which has a long and unsavory reputation for holding political prisoners.

Kitazumi has been in custody since April 18 — the second time he had been arrested since the coup. In February, he was beaten up and briefly held during a crackdown on protesters but was later released.

yuki-kitazumi.jpg
Japanese journalist Yuki Kitazumi speaks during an interview in Fukuoka, southwestern Japan, April 1, 2013, in a file photo released by Japan's Kyodo news agency. Kyodo/REUTERS

Japan, for years a top aid donor to Myanmar, has been pressing for his release.

"Naturally, we will continue to do our utmost for the early release of the Japanese national being held," Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi told Japanese journalists during a trip to Britain, according to national broadcaster NHK.

Protests continue as death toll nears 800

A total of 766 civilians have been killed in the military crackdown on protests, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP), a local monitoring group.

As well as arresting journalists, the generals have also sought to clamp down on news of the crisis by shuttering independent media outlets and throttling internet speeds.

The AAPP says there are 50 journalists in custody at the moment, 25 of whom have been prosecuted, while arrest warrants are out for another 29.

People protest in Hlaing Township, Yangon
People protest in Hlaing Township, Yangon, Myanmar, May 2, 2021, in this still image from a video obtained by Reuters. Handout/Reuters

Despite the dangers, protesters continue to take to the streets, with early-morning demonstrations on Tuesday in the second-biggest city Mandalay, as well as northern Kachin state.

The military has defended its seizure of power, pointing to fraud allegations in the November election, and condemned protesters as rioters and terrorists.

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