An arrested Japanese reporter returned home Friday after being released by Myanmar’s ruling junta in what it called a gesture of friendship to Japan.
Japanese Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi said Yuki Kigazumi was released after efforts by Japanese diplomats and others. The reporter boarded a plane at Yangon’s airport and landed in Japan on Friday night.
Kitazumi, a freelance journalist and former reporter for Japan’s Nikkei business news, said in brief comments at the airport that he learned of his release the night before and was told to pack his bag in 10 minutes.
“As a journalist I wanted to stay in Yangon and keep reporting, but I had to come back, and that is my regret,” he said. He said he hopes to keep telling the world about what’s happening in Myanmar.
The military seized power on Feb. 1, ousting the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi. It has faced large, constant popular opposition, which it has tried to suppress by using force that has cost hundreds of lives and by muzzling the news media.
Myanmar’s army-run Myawaddy TV said Kitazumi was arrested on April 18 for “inciting” anti-military civil disobedience and riots.
“Although the journalist is a lawbreaker, the case will be closed and he will be released at the request of the Special Envoy of the Japanese Government for National Reconciliation in Myanmar, in view of the close ties and future relations between Myanmar and Japan,” the junta said in a statement read on TV.
Japan has criticized the military government’s deadly crackdown on opposition but has taken a milder approach than the United States and some other countries that imposed sanctions against members of the junta.
Kitazumi was also charged with violating visa regulations. He was the first foreign journalist to be charged under a statute which the state press has described as aiming at “fake news.”
He has posted reports and views about developments in Myanmar on Facebook. Hours before his arrest, he posted a video showing Myanmar citizens gathering at a Tokyo temple to pay tribute to people killed by Myanmar security forces trying to quell protests.
Kitazumi had been detained briefly by police in late February while covering pro-democracy protests in Myanmar.
The announcement that he had been granted clemency came a day after a military court sentenced a Myanmar journalist, Min Nyo, to three years in prison on similar charges.
Min Nyo is a correspondent for the Democratic Voice of Burma, an online and broadcast news agency which has continued to operate despite being banned by the junta.
A statement issued by DVB said Min Nyo was covering a March 3 anti-junta protest in the town of Pyay, 260 kilometers (160 miles) northwest of Yangon, when he was arrested and severely beaten by police.
About 80 journalists have been arrested since the military’s takeover. Roughly half are still detained and most of them are being held under charges similar to the one for which Min Nyo was convicted, as are many activists opposed to the military regime.
Rights group Amnesty International said Min Nyo’s case showed the ruthlessness of the junta and the risks faced by journalists reporting on the junta’s abuses.
“Min Nyo’s conviction must be quashed, and he should be released immediately -– along with all other journalists, activists and human rights defenders imprisoned and detained solely for their peaceful opposition to the military coup,” the group’s deputy regional director, Emerlynne Gil, said in a statement.
Kitazumi arrived at Narita Airport outside Tokyo a little after 10:30 p.m., according to a broadcast on the channel.
Japan was a big investor and source of technical help and development aid for Myanmar’s semi-civilian governments in the decade of political reform that followed the end of the last era of military rule in 2011.
Myanmar has been in turmoil since the coup, with the military struggling to impose order amid a groundswell of public anger at its overthrow of Aung San Suu Kyi’s elected government.