Japan reporter freed from Myanmar says inmates were abused

TOKYO (AP) — A Japanese journalist who was freed from a Myanmar prison said Friday that military and police interrogators repeatedly asked him about his friends, clients and made-up allegations.

Yuki Kitazumi, a freelance journalist and a former reporter for Japan’s Nikkei business news, also said other inmates told him about abuses they suffered at the hands of authorities, including repeated beatings during nonstop, dayslong interrogations.

Kitazumi was detained at Yangon’s notorious Insein prison for a month before his release and return to Japan last week. He was arrested by authorities while in the country covering the aftermath of the February’s military coup and accused of offenses including violating the terms of his visa.

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

While in prison, Kitazumi said he met political prisoners who he became friends with. He said they shared news and discussed their concerns about developments in Myanmar and the country’s future.

They also asked him that once he returned to Japan to report what’s happening in Myanmar to the rest of the world. With no stationary, he dipped a bird feather into instant coffee or grape juice to write a memo on scrap paper.

They also told tales of abuse.

The Feb. 1 coup that ousted the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi reversed years of progress toward democracy in Myanmar after five decades of military rule. It was met with widespread public opposition that the military has tried to silence through force, including killing people protesting on the streets and imprisoning activists and journalists.

Even during civilian rule Myanmar’s security forces were accused of abuses, most notably against minority Muslim Rohingya who were forced to flee the country by the hundreds of thousands to escape what the U.S. has called a campaign of genocide.

“Although I was released, none of the problems in Myanmar have been resolved,” Kitazumi said at an online news conference hosted by the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan.

Kitazumi said other prisoners told him about abuses they suffered before coming to Insein.

He said they described being blind-folded, handcuffed behind their backs and forced to kneel on concrete floors while being interrogated in that position, sometimes for days without sleep or rest. He said any negative comments about the junta led to being beaten.

“Ghastly interrogations are going on,” Kitazumi said.

Kitazumi said he was given far better treatment during his own interrogations and suffered no such abuse. He said his interrogators only went as far as banging on a desk and yelling.

Officials repeatedly asked him about what he said was an untrue allegation that he had bought and given a video to his local friend. He said he repeatedly denied the allegation, but nevertheless said a confession presented to him said he didn’t clarify otherwise. He refused to sign it.

Myanmar’s army-run Myawaddy TV has said Kitazumi was arrested for “inciting” anti-military civil disobedience and riots. Kitazumi also became the first foreign journalist charged with violating visa regulations under a new statute that the state press has described as aiming at “fake news.”

Despite the charges, Kitazumi said he was never asked in his court hearing about details of his stories or footage he mostly sent and published in Japan. He believes his arrest was a warning to other foreign journalists.

With his release, all charges were dropped, he said.

About 80 journalists have been arrested since the coup. Roughly half are still detained.

Japan has criticized the military government’s deadly crackdown on opposition but has taken a milder approach than the U.S. and some other countries, which have imposed sanctions against members of the junta.

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