U.S. Journalist Held in Myanmar Prison Believes He Has COVID, Not Getting Medicine

A U.S. journalist being held in a Myanmar prison believes he is infected with COVID-19 and said he is not getting medicines that he requested on Thursday, the Associated Press reported.

Journalist Danny Fenster, the managing editor of online news outlet Frontier Myanmar, was arrested in May in Myanmar on incitement charges. However, his lawyer Than Zaw Aung said last month that Fenster was arrested in connection to his former job as a reporter and copy editor for the website Myanmar Now. Officials at Yangon's Insein Prison said Fenster does not have the virus, but Than Zaw Aung said his client told him he has COVID-19 and is being denied medicines.

"Danny should never have been arrested and we are disappointed that he has not yet been freed. On top of that, he is now also at risk of being infected with COVID-19," the editor-in-chief of Frontier Myanmar, Tom Kean, told the AP via text.

Meanwhile, prison spokesman Chan Aye Kyaw said "if the virus was found in him, we will report it. But now Daniel does not have the disease."

Myanmar's military junta has controlled the country since seizing power in February.

Family of Detained Journalist Danny Fenster
Detained U.S. journalist Danny Fenster, who is being held in a Myanmar prison, says he has COVID-19 and is not getting medicines he requested. In this photo, the parents of Fenster, Buddy Fenster (L) and Rose Fenster (C) and brother Bryan Fenster (R) gather in Huntington Woods, Michigan, on June 4, 2021. Jeff Kowalsky/AFP via Getty Images

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below:

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. Frontier Myanmar is an independent online news outlet based in Yangon, Myanmar's biggest city.

Fenster could be sentenced to up to three years' imprisonment for being charged with incitement. The military-installed government has tried to silence independent news media by withdrawing their licenses and by arresting dozens of journalists.

The U.S. government and press freedom associations have been pushing for his release.

Fenster is being held as Myanmar faces a coronavirus surge that it is ill-equipped to fight, with a public health system in tatters due to the political turmoil that arose in reaction to the military's ouster of the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi. It has a very small supply of COVID-19 vaccines.

Health authorities on Thursday reported 4,188 new cases of the coronavirus, bringing Myanmar's official total since the pandemic began last year to 212,545. There were 165 deaths recorded, bringing the total to 4,346.

Than Zaw Aung said his client told him of his COVID-19 concerns during an online video hearing Thursday.

Insein Prison began a two-week lockdown on July 8 due to the virus surge. Fenster participated in Thursday's brief pretrial hearing from the prison, while the lawyer took part from a township court.

The court ordered Fenster held until another hearing on July 28, his lawyer said. It is unclear when his actual trial will begin.

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 its operations.

Fenster resigned from Myanmar Now in July last year and joined Frontier Myanmar a month later, so it is unclear why he was arrested, his lawyer said.

"There is no point in holding Danny any longer — the authorities should release him immediately so he can go home to his family," Kean said.

Chan Aye Kyaw said that since Fenster is a foreigner, the prison provides up-to-date information on his condition.

He said every prisoner is tested for the virus when police bring them in.

"If they were found positive, we keep them in a dormitory for positive patients and they will be provided with medical care. There are more than 30 patients at the positive dormitory. They are separated from other prisoners," he said.