How Myanmar’s junta threw six foreigners behind bars

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Clockwise from top left: Sean Turnell, Yuki Kitazumi, Vicky Bowman, Toru Kubota, Robert Bociaga and Danny Fenster.

By The Irrawaddy October 19, 2022

Myanmar’s military regime has arrested six foreigners since last year’s military coup, including a former British ambassador to the country. The six were arrested for having had ties to the ousted National League for Democracy (NLD) government or journalists covering anti-regime protests, among other things. Only three have been released while the others remain in junta prisons. Here is a complete list of who they are, when and where they were arrested, and for what.

  1. Australian economist Sean Turnell

Australian economist Sean Turnell had worked as an economic adviser to the National League for Democracy (NLD) government of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi since 2017. He was the first foreigner to be detained after the coup because of his ties to the NLD government. He was arrested in a hotel in Yangon, a week after the February 1, 2021 coup.

A court controlled by the Naypyitaw prison junta sentenced him to three years in prison on September 29 for violating the Official Secrets Act and visa regulations.

The Australian government rejected the decision and called for Turnell’s immediate release. The 58-year-old economist is currently being held in Insein prison in Yangon. He pleaded not guilty to the charges against him at a hearing on August 11 this year.

  1. Polish photojournalist Robert Bociaga

Polish journalist Robert Bociaga was arrested by junta security personnel while documenting an anti-coup protest in Taunggyi, southern Shan State, on March 11, 2021.

The 30-year-old was allegedly beaten during his arrest. He was charged under the Immigration Act and fined 200,000 kyat. He was released on March 22 after 11 days in Taung Lay Lone prison in Taunggyi.

  1. Yuki Kitazumi, Japanese freelance journalist

Japanese freelance journalist Yuki Kitazumi was arrested in Yangon on April 18, 2021. The 45-year-old was charged on May 3 for spreading “fake news”, but was released from Insein prison on May 14 . He returned to Japan the same day.

He was also beaten and briefly detained while covering an anti-coup protest in Yangon on February 26. He was released the same day after approximately five hours of detention.

  1. American journalist Danny Fenster

American journalist Danny Fenster was arrested on May 24 at Yangon International Airport as he was returning to the United States.

The 37-year-old managing director of the Yangon-based news magazine Frontier Myanmar was charged with incitement and violating the Unlawful Associations Act and the Immigration Act, and sentenced to 11 years in prison.

He was prosecuted in part because he worked for local media outlet Myanmar Now, whose media license the regime revoked after the coup. The judge refused to take into account that he had resigned from Myanmar Now in July 2020 and has since worked for Frontier Myanmar.

He was released after more than five months in Insein Prison, following the intervention of former New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson. He was deported on November 15 and flew to the United States.

  1. Japanese documentary filmmaker Toru Kubota

Japanese documentary filmmaker Toru Kubota was arrested during an anti-coup protest on July 30, 2022. He was charged with incitement and violation of immigration law and transaction law electronics.

He was sentenced to seven years in prison on October 5 for incitement and violating the Electronic Transactions Act. On October 12, he was sentenced to an additional three years for violating immigration law.

The 26-year-old is the second Japanese journalist to be detained since the coup and is currently being held in Insein prison.

  1. Former British Ambassador Vicky Bowman

Former British Ambassador to Myanmar Vicky Bowman, also known as Daw Ohmar Khin, and her husband Ko Htein Lin, a renowned artist and former political prisoner, were arrested on August 24 this year at their home in Yangon.

The regime accused Bowman of violating immigration laws by staying at a family home in Kalaw, Shan state, rather than at his registered address in Yangon after her husband failed to report the his wife’s stay in Shan State.

The couple were jailed for a year with hard labor on September 2 by a junta-controlled court in Insein prison.

Bowman served as Britain’s ambassador to Myanmar under the previous military regime between 2002 and 2006. She was the first former diplomat to be detained after the coup.

The arrest came after the British government soured its relationship with Myanmar’s military regime.

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