American Journalist Jailed in Myanmar Faces New Charges Related to Terrorism, Treason

An American journalist who has been in jail for months in Myanmar is facing two extra criminal charges related to terrorism and treason offenses, in addition to the three he already faces, his lawyer said Tuesday. Danny Fenster was detained at the Yangon International Airport in May as he was waiting to take a flight to the Detroit area to visit his family, the Associated Press reported.

One of the new charges against Fenster is under the umbrella of the Counter-Terrorism Act, which criminalizes any contact, membership and assistance to groups officially deemed as "terrorist" organizations. The charge, which can result in a prison sentence of between three to seven years, covers "acts of exhortation, persuasion, propaganda and recruitment of any person to participate in any terrorist group or activities of terrorism."

The other charge against Fenster, which comes under a section of the country's penal code where it is usually called treason, could result in seven to 20 years of prison time, the AP reported.

Fenster is the managing editor of Frontier Myanmar, an online news site based in Yangon. While answering a reporter's question in September, Myanmar military spokesperson Zaw Min Tun, said that "Fenster did more than just what a journalist does," CNN reported.

Fenster's family has continued to call for the Biden administration and the U.S. State Department to help secure his release. State Department spokesman Ned Price said in September that the U.S. is "deeply concerned" about his detainment and that "journalism is not a crime."

"The detention of Danny Fenster and other journalists constitutes an unacceptable attack on freedom of expression in Burma," he said, referring to Myanmar's former official name. "We continue to press Burma's military regime to release Danny immediately."

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Fenster Hit With Additional Charges
U.S. journalist Danny Fenster, who has been held behind bars for months in Myanmar is facing two additional criminal charges related to terrorism and treason offenses, in addition to the three he already faces, his lawyer said Tuesday. Pictured, Fenster works out of his van that he made into a home/office in Detroit in 2018. Fenster Family photo via AP

Myanmar's military seized power on February 1, ousting the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi. It has repeatedly used lethal force against protesters but has been unable to quell popular resistance to its takeover. More than 1,200 civilians are estimated to have been killed and there have been widespread arrests.

Fenster has already been charged with incitement for allegedly spreading false or inflammatory information, an offense punishable by up to three years in prison.

He was also charged with violating the Unlawful Associations Act for contacting opposition groups that were declared illegal by the military-installed government. The offense carries a penalty of two to three years' imprisonment.

A charge of violating visa conditions added earlier this month is punishable by six months to five years' imprisonment.

Fenster's trial is closed to the press and the public, and details have been relayed only by his lawyer. It remains unclear what exactly he is accused of doing, despite testimony by several prosecution witnesses.

The judge in the case ruled Monday that the prosecution had provided enough evidence for the trial to continue.

So far, the prosecution appears to be trying to link Fenster to a not-yet-specified offense allegedly carried out by his former employer. Recent prosecution witnesses said the Information Ministry had records that Fenster was still working for the online news service Myanmar Now when he was arrested. But according to Myanmar Now and his current employer, Frontier Myanmar, he quit the former job in July last year and joined the latter company a month after that.

Fenster's lawyer, Than Zaw Aung, said Tuesday he has submitted documents and other evidence to the court to prove Fenster is a staff member of Frontier Myanmar. He said Fenster, an employee of Frontier Myanmar and two other defense witnesses testified Tuesday.

Fenster's initial three cases are being heard at a different Yangon court from where the new charges have been filed.

Major opposition groups, such as the National Unity Government, which considers itself the country's legitimate administrative body, in May were declared "terrorist" organizations by the government. They had earlier been declared illegal organizations, which suggests that the charges against Fenster under the Unlawful Associations Act and the Counter-Terrorism Law cover the same alleged offense.

Danny Fenster Myanmar Detainment
American journalist Danny Fenster was detained at Myanmar's Yangon International Airport in May as he was waiting to take a flight to the Detroit area in the U.S. to visit his family. A person wears a t-shirt calling for the release of Fenster in Huntington Woods, Michigan, on June 4, 2021. Jeff Kowalsky/AFP via Getty Images