U.S. Journalist Danny Fenster Frustrated by Continued Myanmar Imprisonment, Lawyer Says

Imprisoned American journalist Danny Fenster appeared demoralized in a court hearing in Myanmar on Monday, according to his lawyer.

Fenster, who has been imprisoned at Yangon's Isein Prison for four months while he awaits trial, is facing charges of incitement for "spreading inflammatory information." He could be sentenced to up to three years in prison, but the charge does not detail what crimes he committed.

Isein Prison is notorious for its overcrowding and for serving as a detention site for political prisoners. A military coup reclaimed power in the embattled nation in February and has since targeted independent news media by canceling their licenses and arresting journalists.

Than Zaw Aung, Fenster's lawyer, told reporters that the journalist seemed defeated when they spoke in a video conference during Monday's court hearing. The hearings are held in a township court instead of a special courtroom at the prison because of coronavirus concerns.

"His hair grew longer. He seemed disappointed and he told me in a frustrated tone that 'I have nothing to say,'" the lawyer said. "I asked him if he had been vaccinated by the prison authorities, and he said no. His words showed that he is not feeling well. He didn't request anything."

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Danny Fenster
A person wears a t-shirt calling for the release of US journalist Danny Fenster in Huntington Woods, Michigan, on June 4, 2021. The US State Department has called for the release of Fenster, a US citizen and the Managing Editor of news outlet Frontier Myanmar, who was detained on May 24, 2021, as he attempted to board a plane at Yangon International Airport to leave military-ruled Myanmar. JEFF KOWALSKY/AFP/Getty Images

Fenster said in mid-July that he believed he had contracted COVID-19 and was not given medication he had requested. Prison authorities denied he was infected.

Fenster was detained at Yangon International Airport on May 24 as he was trying to board a flight to go to the Detroit area in the United States to see his family. He is the managing editor of Frontier Myanmar, an independent online news outlet based in Yangon, Myanmar's biggest city.

"We are very concerned about Danny's physical and mental health, particularly given his demeanor at today's hearing," said Thomas Kean, editor-in-chief of Frontier. "It's totally understandable that he would be frustrated and disappointed -– he should never have been detained in the first place. Danny is now approaching four months in Insein Prison and there is no reason for the authorities to hold him a single day longer. He should be released immediately so he can go home to his family."

Monday's hearing was held to extend Fenster's pre-trial detention, and set October 4 for his next appearance. It was not clear if it could include allowing an application for release on bail.

Press associations and free speech organizations around the world have called for Fenster's release, as has the U.S. government.

"We remain deeply concerned over the continued detention of U.S. citizen Danny Fenster who was working as a journalist in Burma," State Department spokesman Ned Price said earlier this month after Fenster marked his 100th day in detention. The United States refers to Myanmar as Burma, its name before a military government changed it in 1989.

"Journalism is not a crime. The detention of Daniel Fenster and other journalists constitutes an unacceptable attack on freedom of expression in Burma," Price said. "We continue to press Burma's military regime to release Danny immediately. We will do so until he safely returns home to his family."