U.S. Journalist Danny Fenster to Remain in Myanmar Prison, Despite Release of Other Media

U.S. journalist Danny Fenster, 37, is to remain in a Myanmar prison for now despite the country's release of other imprisoned media workers.

A court extended Fenster's pretrial detention Thursday after he was arrested in May on incitement charges, according to the Associated Press. Fenster is the managing editor of Frontier Myanmar, an online news outlet, but was arrested in connection to his previous work as a reporter and copy editor for the website Myanmar Now, according to his lawyer, Than Zaw Aung.

Fenster resigned from Myanmar Now in July 2020 and his lawyer does not know the basis for his arrest. Myanmar, ruled by its military, began releasing 2,300 prisoners connected to protests against the military, including some journalists.

"The Myanmar junta's continued detention of journalist Danny Fenster is outrageous and unacceptable. Independent reporting of what's happening on the ground in Myanmar should not be considered a crime," Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director of Human Rights Watch, told AP.

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Shirt for U.S. Journalist Danny Fenster
U.S. journalist Danny Fenster is to remain in a Myanmar prison for now despite the country beginning to release other imprisoned journalists. In this photo, 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

An incitement charge in Myanmar carries a penalty of up to three years' imprisonment.

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.

Fenster's lawyer told AP that the journalist was in good health but appeared to have lost some weight at Thursday's hearing at the special court at Yangon's Insein Prison, where he is being held. He asked that his wife send him medicine and food. Two consular officials from the U.S. Embassy also attended the hearing, the lawyer said.

The next hearing is scheduled for July 15, but the case will not come to trial then because the court has too many cases backed up, he said.

Fenster's court appearance came a day after authorities began a release of about 2,300 prisoners who were charged in connection with protests that erupted after the military overthrew the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi in February. The new government has tried to silence independent news media by withdrawing their licenses and by arresting journalists.

Those released also included protesters. Most were being held on the same charge as Fenster. Because there is no official list of freed detainees and the releases are taking place over several days, the exact number of journalists freed is not known.

An unofficial tally kept by Myanmar journalists says of 88 journalists who were arrested after February's military takeover, 49 have been released, including 14 on Wednesday.

In June, a court released U.S. journalist Nathan Maung, who was arrested in March while working for Kamayut Media, a local online news platform. The charges against him were dropped, his case dismissed and he was deported to the United States.

"The authorities should immediately drop all charges against Fenster, and permit him to leave the country if that is what he wants to do. The junta should also unconditionally free the more than 50 Burmese journalists who are still in detention and lift the license revocation orders imposed against numerous local media outlets," Robertson said. Myanmar is also known by its old name, Burma.

Myanmar Now, along with several other media outlets, had its license revoked in early March, banning it from publishing on any platform. However, it has continued to operate online.

Fenster joined Frontier Myanmar a month after resigning from Myanamar Now, so it is unclear why he was arrested, his lawyer said.

"I don't know in detail. What I can say is that he was accused as a staff member of Myanmar Now," Fenster's attorney said. "I'm not clear if it concerns a story posted on Myanmar Now or not."

Fenster's family in the United States, led by his parents and brother, Bryan, have rallied support for his release with a website, an online petition and contacts with their representatives in Congress to keep pressure on the State Department to push Myanmar on the case. The U.S. government has made repeated pleas for media freedom in Myanmar and for Fenster's release.

The Irish rock band U2, which has long taken an interest in the fight for democracy in Myanmar, on Wednesday tweeted its support for Fenster's release.

"Journalism is not a crime. We join @RepAndyLevin and @bryanfenster in urging the immediate release of journalist Danny Fenster from detainment in Myanmar and thank heroic organizations like @pressfreedom for fighting to protect journalists everywhere -- #BringDannyHome," it said.

Fenster was able to speak to his brother on the phone on Wednesday morning—Tuesday night Detroit time—Detroit television station WDIV reported. It said the U.S. Consulate arranged to have the detained journalist speak by phone with his wife, Julianna, in Yangon, who then contacted his brother Bryan and connected them through a speakerphone.

The report said it was the first time Fenster's family in the U.S. was able to speak with him since his arrest. It quoted Bryan as saying Danny "was more talkative than I would have imagined, which was really great, but it was just making sure he was OK, made sure he knew we were OK and the embassy was making sure he knew what to expect at the hearing on Thursday."

Fenster Remains in Myanmar Prison
The parents of detained U.S. journalist Danny Fenster, Buddy Fenster (left) and Rose Fenster (center) and brother Bryan Fenster gather in Huntington Woods, Michigan, on June 4, 2021. A court extended Fenster's pretrial detention Thursday after he was arrested in May on incitement charges. (Photo by JEFF KOWALSKY / AFP) (Photo by JEFF KOWALSKY/AFP via Getty Images)