YANGON: A Japanese journalist arrested while covering the aftermath of the Myanmar coup is to be deported, Tokyo said on Friday (May 14), after charges against him were dropped as a diplomatic gesture.
Yuki Kitazumi, held in Yangon's Insein prison since his arrest last month, was one of at least 80 reporters detained during the junta's crackdown on anti-coup dissent.
Security forces have killed more than 780 people since protests erupted following the Feb 1 coup that ousted civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi, according to a local monitoring group.
Japanese Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi confirmed that the journalist was being sent back to Japan. Motegi said Japan had used "various channels" to press for his release and it had been "tough work".
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 is happening in Myanmar.
READ: Myanmar junta charges Japanese journalist over 'fake news'
Myanmar state broadcaster MRTV announced Thursday that the charges against Kitazumi were being dropped "in order to reconcile with Japan and improve our relationship".
State media said an earlier investigation found that Kitazumi "supported the protests".
He was charged under a newly revised section of the penal code which criminalises spreading fake news, criticising the coup or encouraging disobedience among soldiers and civil servants.
Kitazumi, who had previously been arrested in February but released soon afterwards, was the first foreign journalist to be charged since the coup.
“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 Myanmar's army-run Myawaddy TV.
A Polish photographer arrested while covering a protest in March was freed and deported after nearly two weeks in custody.
As well as arresting reporters and photographers, the junta has also revoked broadcasting licences and ordered regular internet outages as it seeks to suppress news of the anti-coup protest movement.
Those convicted can face up to three years in jail.
On Wednesday, a reporter for independent media outlet DVB, Min Nyo, was sentenced to three years in jail under the provision.
Ko Aung Kyaw Oo, a former reporter for Tomorrow Journal, was arrested on Thursday afternoon in a teashop in Yenanchaung, in Magway region, his son confirmed to AFP.
"We don't know why he was arrested and they gave no reason for his arrest," the son said.
Forty-five journalists and photographers remain in custody across Myanmar, according to monitoring group Reporting ASEAN.