How Myanmar’s Junta Threw Six Foreigners Behind Bars

By The Irrawaddy 19 October 2022

Myanmar’s military regime has arrested six foreigners since the military coup last year, including a former British ambassador to the country. The six were arrested for having connections to the ousted National League for Democracy (NLD) government or journalists covering anti-regime protests, among others. Only three have been released while the rest remain in junta jails. The following 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 advisor to Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) government since 2017. He was the first foreigner to be detained after the coup because of his ties to the NLD government. He was arrested at a hotel in Yangon, one week after Feb. 1 2021 coup.

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

Australia’s government rejected the ruling and called for Turnell to be immediately released. The 58-year-old economist is currently being held in Insein Prison in Yangon. He pleaded not guilty to charges against him at a court hearing on August 11 this year.

  1. Polish photojournalist Robert Bociaga

Polish journalist Robert Bociaga was detained by junta security personnel while documenting an anti-coup protest in Taunggyi in 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 kyats. He was freed on March 22 after 11 days of detention at Taung Lay Lone Prison in Taunggyi.

  1. Japanese freelance journalist Yuki Kitazumi 

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

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

  1. US journalist Danny Fenster 

American journalist Danny Fenster was detained on May 24 at Yangon International Airport on his way back to the US.

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

He was prosecuted partly because he worked for local media outlet Myanmar Now, whose media license the regime had revoked after the coup. The judge refused to consider the fact that he resigned from Myanmar Now on July 2020 and had since been working for Frontier Myanmar.

He was released after more than five months of detention at Insein Prison, following former New Mexico governor Bill Richardson’s intervention. He was deported on November 15 and flew to the US.

  1. Japanese documentary filmmaker Toru Kubota 

Japanese documentary filmmaker Toru Kubota was arrested at an anti-coup protest on July 30, 2022. He was charged with incitement and violating the Immigration Act and Electronic Transactions Law.

He was handed seven years in prison on October 5 for incitement and breaking the electronic transactions law. On October 12, he was sentenced to another three years for violating the 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

Britain’s former 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 detained on August 24 this year at their house in Yangon.

The regime charged Bowman with breaking immigration laws by staying in a family home in Shan State’s Kalaw rather than in her registered Yangon address after her husband failed to report his wife’s stay in Shan State.

The couple was imprisoned for one 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 had downgraded its relationship with Myanmar’s military regime.