Japanese reporters released from Myanmar say prisoners were abused

Tokyo (AP) — A Japanese journalist released from a prison in Myanmar said on Friday that military and police interrogators repeatedly asked him about his friends, customers, and allegations made.

Yuki Kitazumi, a freelance journalist and former reporter for Nikkei Business News in Japan, also said other prisoners had spoken of abuse by authorities.

Kitazumi was released after being detained for a month in the infamous Insein Prison in Yangon and returned to Japan last week. He was arrested by authorities while in a country reporting the aftermath of a military coup in February and charged with crimes such as violating visa requirements.

The ruling military junta said he was released as a gesture of friendship with Japan.

While in prison, Kitazumi said he had met a political prisoner he had become friends with. He said they shared the news and discussed their concerns about Myanmar’s development and the future of the country.

They also asked him to report to the world what was happening in Myanmar when he returned to Japan. Without stationery, he dipped the bird’s feathers in instant coffee or grape juice and wrote notes on scrap paper.

They also talked about abuse.

The February 1 coup, which expelled Aung San Suu Kyi’s elected government, reversed many years of progress towards democracy in Myanmar after 50 years of military junta. The military’s attempts to silence by force, such as killing protesters on the streets and imprisoning activists and journalists, were widely opposed by the general public.

Even during civilian rule, Myanmar’s security forces, especially against the minority Muslim Rohingya, were forced to flee the country by hundreds of thousands to escape what the United States calls a genocide campaign. He was accused of abuse.

“I was released, but Myanmar’s problems have not been resolved,” Kitazumi said at an online press conference hosted by the Foreign Correspondents’ Association of Japan.

Mr Kitazumi said he had told him about the abuse that other prisoners had suffered before coming to Insane.

He said they were blindfolded, handcuffed behind their backs, and forced to kneel on the concrete floor while being cross-examined in that position, sometimes during days without sleep or rest. He said negative comments about the military junta led to the beating.

“Terrible cross-examination continues,” said Kitazumi.

Mr Kitazumi said he received much better treatment during his own interrogation and did not suffer such abuse. He said his cross-examination only went to the point of hitting the desk and screaming.

Officials repeatedly asked about what he said was a false allegation that he had purchased and gave the video to a local friend. He repeatedly denied the allegations, but said that the confession presented to him nevertheless said he had not otherwise revealed. He refused to sign it.

MyawaddyTV, run by the Myanmar military, said North Residence was arrested for “inciting” anti-military civil disobedience and riots. Kitazumi was also the first foreign journalist to be charged with violating visa rules under a new law stating that state media are aiming for “fake news.”

Despite the accusations, Mr Kitazumi said he had never been asked in court about the details of his stories and footage that he sent and published primarily in Japan. He believes his arrest was a warning to other foreign journalists.

He said all charges were withdrawn by his release.

About 80 journalists have been arrested since the coup. About half are still in custody.

Japan has criticized the deadly crackdown on the opposition in the military junta, but has taken a milder approach than the United States and several other countries that impose sanctions on members of the military junta.