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Japanese journalist, two Burmese reporters arrested

(RSF/IFEX) - Reporters Without Borders and the Burma Media Association call for the release of Japanese journalist Toru Yamaji, the head of the Tokyo-based news agency APF, who was arrested in the eastern border town of Myawaddy during the 7 November 2010 elections after apparently entering from Thailand. He was reportedly taken by helicopter to the Burmese capital, Naypyitaw, for questioning by military intelligence.

"As the military junta denied foreign reporters entry to Burma, it is only natural that some tried to enter without press visas," the two organizations said. "We support Toru Yamaji's attempt to do some reporting despite the restrictions. This episode highlights the enormous difficulties that the international media have had in covering these undemocratic elections."

Arrested by police in Myawaddy on the morning of 7 November, Yamaji was said to have been taken to Naypyitaw because of the clashes taking place in Myawaddy between the army and ethnic Karen rebels. It is believed that he is not being mistreated.

Aged 49, Yamaji said in Twitter posts the day before 7 November that he planned to cross the border into Burma because journalists had a duty to cover what was going on there. After arriving in Myawaddy, all he reportedly did was take photos of a school that was being used as a voting station.

The Japanese foreign ministry has asked the Burmese authorities for information about what has happed to Yamaji. A Japanese video reporter who worked for the same agency, Kenji Nagai, was shot dead by a Burmese soldier on a Rangoon street in 2007. No soldier was punished or brought to trial and the Burmese authorities never returned his video camera to his family.

Two women reporters for the privately-owned weekly "True News" were also arrested on 7 November by representatives of the Election Commission in South-Okklappa, near Rangoon, where the current mayor of Rangoon, Aung Thein Linn, is running as a candidate. Reporters Without Borders and the Burma Media Association call for their release.

The Burmese correspondents of foreign news media were closely monitored by police and soldiers in plain clothes during the polling and throughout the preceding election campaign.

"Colleagues have been followed and sometimes searched, while the police spend their time taking photos of us as soon as we try to cover a story linked to the elections," a Burmese reporter employed by a Japanese media told Reporters Without Borders and the Burma Media Association. "They follow me wherever I go," said another reporter for a foreign news media.

In one case, two Burmese reporters working for foreign media were threatened in Tamwe Township by supporters of a candidate of the military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party.

The authorities have also ordered the privately-owned Eleven Media group not to update the special "Elections" sections of its website or Facebook pages.
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