The Directors’ Guild of Japan has called on authorities in Myanmar to release filmmaker Maung Thein Dan. He has been detained and jailed pending a trial.
Myanmar was wracked by a military coup on Feb. 1, 2021 which toppled the civilian government of Ang San Suu Kyi. The army has since mounted a brutal crackdown that notably involves control of most media within the country, the arrest of celebrities, and other efforts to eliminate dissent.
Variety has previously reported on the arrest in June and detention of Ma Aeint, who produced “Money Has Four Legs,” a satirical feature about no-budget filmmaking and film censorship that recently played at the Udine and Locarno festivals. She is currently in Insein Prison, held in a section for political prisoners.
Maung Thein Dan, who has lived in Japan since a child, was arrested while in Myanmar in April. He has been charged with supporting anti-government protests by selling footage that documented anti-coup protests to a Japanese journalist.
The journalist, Kitazumi Yuki was arrested in Myanmar and detained for a month. He denies either receiving content from Maung Thein Dan or paying for it.
The DGJ statement was published on July 21 and called for the immediate release of Maung Thein Dan and all other political prisoners in Myanmar.
“A military coup d’etat that broke out in Myanmar on February 1, this year, has left many cultural figures, artists, film directors and actors, as well as citizens, unfairly detained for more than five months in the country, resulting in serious human rights violations. We are in a critical situation. Among them is Mr. Maung Thein Dan, a Burmese film director raised in Japan.
“Daisuke Tengan, the president of Japan Institute of the Moving Image, Daisuke Tengan, described Maung Thein Dan, a graduate of the 18th class of the JIMI, “as loving Japan and working to become a bridge between the two countries using movies.”
On July 24, 2021, the DGJ held a public seminar to discuss the issues in Myanmar. At the event, it screened Maung Thein Dan’s graduation film, “Ain” a short whose Burmese title translates into English as “Home.”
Kitazumi, now in Japan, told the DGJ symposium that he saw Maung Thein Dan while they were both detained. Kitazumi says that Maung Thein Dan claimed to have been tortured into signing a false confession.
Maung Thein Dan is now being held in Insein Prison awaiting trial. If found guilty, he faces a potential three-year prison sentence.
Insein was notorious for its harsh conditions and extreme overcrowding long before the coronavirus outbreak. In recent months it has been reported that the prison is an epicenter of the disease.
“According to statistics from Myanmar citizen groups, as of July 14, 911 people were killed by the armed forces, and a total of 6,694 citizens were unfairly arrested and detained and tortured. Life is at stake and there is no time to spare.
“The Directors Guild of Japan is deeply concerned about this situation as a cooperative aiming to defend and acquire all rights of film directors, including freedom of expression, and strongly condemns inhumane crackdowns, and (our) Myanmar’s colleagues involved in film. We call for the immediate liberation of citizens, the restoration of freedom of expression and liberty, and the revival of democracy,” said the DGJ statement signed by well-known filmmaker Sai Yoichi.