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Maung Thein Dan: The Myanmar Filmmaker Imprisoned for Fighting to Free His Country

Some people don't want you to know the inconvenient truth. And this is what happens when they are in power" — film director on the Myanmar military coup.

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Maung Thein Dan Special Screening at kawasaki Art Center

Myanmar has been in a state of turmoil since February 2021. That is when the military staged a coup and overthrew the democratically-elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi

Since then, the military junta has cracked down on dissent, leading to the arrest and detention of many cultural figures, artists, film directors, and actors. 

Maung Thein Dan

Among those detained is Maung Thein Dan, a Burmese filmmaker who was raised in Japan. 

He was arrested in Myanmar in April 2021 and charged with supporting anti-government protests in cooperation with a Japanese journalist.

The Directors Guild of Japan (DGJ) issued a statement on July 21, 2021, calling for the immediate release of Maung Thein Dan and all other political prisoners in Myanmar. 

DGJ expressed its deep concern about the situation in the country. It has also condemned the inhumane crackdowns on filmmakers and other citizens involved in the film industry.

Furthermore, the organization called for the restoration of freedom of expression and liberty, as well as the revival of democracy.

Maung Thein Dan's Connection to Japan

Dan is a graduate of the 18th class of the Japan Institute of the Moving Image (JIMI). He has been described as a filmmaker who loves Japan and is working to become a bridge between the two countries using his movies.

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Dan's graduation film, Ain, was screened at a public seminar held by the DGJ on July 24, 2021.

The award-winning short film's Burmese title translates into English as "Home." It explores the idea of home and belonging, as well as the struggles faced by Burmese immigrant workers in Japan.

On February 6, 2023, another screening was hosted by the Japan Institute of the Moving Image (JIMI) at Kawasaki Art Center, a film theater in Kanagawa Prefecture, which included Ain.

Maung Thein Dan Filming

Daisuke Tengan, the president of JIMI, is also a film director and a screenwriter. He recalled that Maung Thein Dan is "serious, cheerful, friendly, and empathetic."

"There are people who don't want you to know the inconvenient truth. And this is what happens when they are in power," he added.

Arrest and Detention

In April 2021, Dan was falsely charged by the Myanmar military for selling footage that documented anti-coup protests to a Japanese journalist, Yuki Kitazumi

Kitazumi was also arrested by the military and detained for a month in Myanmar. He denies receiving content from Maung Thein Dan or paying for it. Moreover, he claims that Dan was tortured into signing a false confession. Kitazumi is now in Japan and has shared his experience with the DGJ symposium.

Dan's supporters, including his family, friends, colleagues, and fellow filmmakers, have been raising awareness about his situation. Moreover, they have been calling for his immediate release since his arrest in April 2021. 

DGJ has been at the forefront of these efforts and has been urging the Japanese government to take action to help secure Dan's release.

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The international community has also been following the situation in Myanmar closely and has expressed concern about the deteriorating human rights situation.

In addition, the United Nations, the European Union, and the United States have imposed sanctions on Myanmar's military leaders and called for the release of political prisoners.

Supporting Myanmar Journalists and Filmmakers.

The website "Docu Athan" has been launched by Kitazumi and filmmaker Toru Kubota in support of Myanmar storytellers. 

Yuki Kitazumi (L), Toru Kubota (R)

Kubota was also detained in Yangon while covering protests against the coup in 2021-2022. However, he was later released and returned to Japan.

In the website's name, "Athan" means "Voice" in Burmese. And the website showcases videos produced by journalists and filmmakers who continue to report on the situation in Myanmar.

Viewers can also donate to support these creators through Docu Athan. The site translates their works and presents them in Japanese and English.  

Kitazumi started the project to help his friends who are struggling to report on what is happening in Myanmar. Kubota was inspired to launch the site after a local journalist who was also detained told him to "keep reporting on Myanmar."

Filmmakers in Myanmar's Democratic Struggle

Filmmakers have played a critical role in Myanmar's struggle for democracy. As a consequence, many have been targeted by the military regime. 

The film industry has been an essential tool for documenting and highlighting human rights abuses, social injustices, and political repression in Myanmar. 

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Filmmakers like Maung Thein Dan have used their skills to bring attention to these issues and to shed light on the realities faced by ordinary citizens.

In recent years, the film industry in Myanmar has experienced a renaissance, with new voices emerging and innovative films being produced. 

However, the military coup has dealt a severe blow to the industry, with many filmmakers being arrested, detained, or forced to flee the country. 

The military coup and government control by the junta led to a brutal crackdown on dissent, with many cultural figures, artists, and filmmakers being targeted. Dan is among them. His detention is a grave violation of human rights and an attack on freedom of expression. 

According to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (Burma), more than 20,000 people have been arrested since the coup began. Moreover, more than 16,000 people, including journalists, still remain in detention.

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Author: Shaun Fernando