Filmmaker Sentenced to 10 Years in Prison

Japanese documentary filmmaker Toru Kubota has been sentenced to 10 years in prison in military-ruled Myanmar. On Wednesday, a military court sentenced Kubota to three years in prison for sedition and seven years for violating a law on telecommunications, a Japanese foreign ministry official confirmed, according to The Japan Times. Kubota will serve the terms concurrently.

The sentencing was handed down two months after the filmmaker was detained by authorities on July 30. According to reports, Kubota, 26, had been filming a protest against the military at the time in Myanmar's main city of Yangon. At the time, it was reported he faced charges of breaking an immigration law and encouraging dissent, with the military alleging that Kubota entered the country from neighboring Thailand using a tourist visa. The military also alleged that Kubota, whose Light Up Rohingya won the AFP and Student Awards at the United for Peace Film Festival in 2016, was participating in the demonstration and communicating with protesters while filming and previously reported on the Rohingya Muslim minority group and disseminated false information.

(Photo: Philip FONG / AFP) (Photo by PHILIP FONG/AFP via Getty Images)

Kubota has been detained in Yangon's Insein Prison for political prisoners. Proceedings are still underway over his alleged violation of immigration law, with his next hearing scheduled for Oct.12.

Kubota's detainment and sentencing have raised plenty of alarm. Tetsuo Kitada, the deputy chief of mission at the Embassy of Japan in Myanmar, told CNN the Wednesday court ruling had been made "behind closed doors," and that Kubota's lawyer was not allowed to be present. Closed-door trials, which have grown increasingly common in Myanmar, violate international human rights, according to rights groups and observers. According to Reuters, a Japanese ministry official said, "we have been asking Myanmar authorities for Mr. Kubota's early release, and we intend to keep on doing so," with Amnesty International's Deputy Regional Director for Campaigns Ming Yu Hah stating, "with this latest verdict Myanmar's military is cementing its reputation as one of the top jailers of journalists in the world. Filming a protest is not a crime. Myanmar's military should release Toru Kubota immediately and let him go home. It should also drop charges against and release all journalists arrested and sentenced simply for doing their job."


A petition calling for Kubota's release was also launched following his arrest. That petition vows to take "every action possible to demand the immediate release of our dear friend Toru Kubota and the Myanmar citizens who were also detained with him." The petition has received more than 60,000 signatures.