TOKYO, Nov.16 (Reuters) – Japan on Tuesday distanced itself from a visit to Myanmar by its special envoy in which, according to Burmese military-led media, he was instrumental in freeing prison by American journalist Danny Fenster.
Fenster, 37, editor of Frontier Myanmar magazine, was released on Monday three days after being sentenced to 11 years in prison for incitement and violations of the laws on immigration and illegal assemblies.
He had been detained since May, sparking an international campaign for his release that highlighted the plight of the media in a Southeast Asian country riddled with internal strife since the military takeover in February brought him to light. plunged into chaos.
Myawaddy TV, owned by the Burmese military, said on Monday that Fenster had been granted an amnesty following requests by former U.S. state governor and diplomat with long-standing ties to Myanmar, Bill Richardson, who has been openly linked to the liberation effort.
But in a surprise, he also credited the release of Yohei Sasakawa, the chairman of the Nippon Foundation who is also Japan’s special envoy to Myanmar for national reconciliation, as well as former Japanese minister Hideo Watanabe.
Sasakawa and Watanabe have had close ties with the Burmese army for years. Sasakawa met with coup leader Min Aung Hlaing over the weekend, but his Nippon Foundation declined to comment on the talks, citing political sensitivity.
Myawaddy TV said Fenster was released in response to requests from Sasakawa, Watanabe and Richardson to “maintain friendship between countries and emphasize humanitarian grounds.”
Japanese Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi, when questioned at a press conference about reports of Sasakawa’s involvement in the journalist’s release, said the envoy was on a week-long visit to Myanmar at personal title.
Hayashi said he was aware of Sasakawa’s meeting with Min Aung Hlaing, but said the visit “was not carried out in his capacity as a government official” and that his ministry was not involved in it. its organization.
“The government has traditionally maintained a level of contact with Mr. Sasakawa, but I would like to refrain from making the details of these communications public,” Hayashi said.
He did not refer to Fenster’s release, but said Japan will continue its efforts to improve and resolve the situation in Myanmar, including humanitarian aid for its citizens.
According to the association for the defense of the rights of political prisoners, 10,143 people have been arrested since the coup in Myanmar and 1,260 people have been killed in violence, most during a crackdown by the security forces against protests and dissent.
Additional reports from Ju-min Park; Editing by Christian Schmollinger, Robert Birsel
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