Japanese journalist Toru Kubota (C) speaks to the media upon his arrival at Tokyo's Haneda Airport, after being released from a Myanmar prison, on November 18, 2022. Kubota and Myanmar editor Than Htike Aung were released on November 17 as part of a wider amnesty, but dozens of journalists remain behind bars in the country. (AFP/Kazuhiro Nogi)

Myanmar releases journalists Toru Kubota and Than Htike Aung, but dozens remain behind bars

Bangkok, November 18, 2022–In response to news reports that Myanmar on Thursday released Japanese documentary filmmaker Toru Kubota and editor Than Htike Aung of the local Mizzima news website as part of a wider amnesty of 5,774 prisoners, the Committee to Protect Journalists issued the following statement calling for the release of all jailed journalists in the country:

“While CPJ welcomes the release of journalists Toru Kubota and Than Htike Aung, we reiterate that they never should have been imprisoned in the first place,” said Shawn Crispin, CPJ’s senior Southeast Asia representative. “These periodic and partial releases are cynical and simply not sufficient: Myanmar’s junta must free all of the journalists it wrongfully holds behind bars.”

Kubota was arrested on July 30 while covering a protest in Myanmar’s main city of Yangon and convicted and sentenced in October to 10 years in prison on charges of sedition and violating immigration and other laws.

Than Htike Aung was arrested on March 19, 2021, while covering a court case outside of the Dakkhin Thiri court in the capital Naypyidaw. He was sentenced in March this year to two years in prison under Article 505 (a) of the penal code, a broad provision that criminalizes incitement and the dissemination of false news.

CPJ is monitoring and investigating to ascertain if any other journalists were released in Thursday’s amnesty. The Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, a local monitoring group, said in a statement that only 72 political prisoners were freed as part of the release.

Myanmar’s Ministry of Information did not respond to CPJ’s emailed request for information on the number of journalists included in the pardon order. Myanmar was the world’s second-worst jailer of journalists in 2021, with 26 journalists behind bars at the time of CPJ’s December 1, 2021, prison census.