Burmese court extends pre-trial detention of US journalist
BANGKOK – A Myanmar court on Thursday extended the pre-trial detention of Danny Fenster, an American journalist employed by an online news magazine in the army-run Southeast Asian country who was arrested in May for incitement to violence and punishable by up to three years’ imprisonment.
Fenster, editor-in-chief of Frontier Myanmar, was arrested at Yangon International Airport on May 24 as he attempted to board a flight to the U.S.’s Detroit area to see his family.
Fenster’s attorney Than Zaw Aung told The Associated Press the 37-year-old journalist was in good health but appeared to have lost weight during Thursday’s hearing before the Insein Prison Special Court in Yangon, where he is being held. He asked his wife to 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 go to trial at that time because the court has too many cases saved, he said.
Fenster’s court appearance came a day after authorities began releasing around 2,300 prisoners who were charged in the protests that erupted after the military overthrew Aung San Suu’s elected government Kyi in February. The new government tried to silence the independent news media by withdrawing their licenses and arresting journalists.
Those released included protesters as well as journalists. Most were held on the same charge as Fenster. As there is no official list of released detainees and the releases take place over several days, the exact number of released journalists is not known.
An unofficial count kept by Burmese journalists indicates that out of 88 journalists arrested after the military takeover in February, 49 were released, including 14 on Wednesday.
In June, a court released American 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 Myanmar junta’s continued detention of journalist Danny Fenster is scandalous and unacceptable. Independent reporting on what is happening on the ground in Myanmar should not be viewed as a crime, ”said Phil Robertson, deputy director for Asia at Human Rights Watch, in an emailed statement.
“Authorities should immediately drop all charges against Fenster and allow him to leave the country if that is what he wants to do. The junta should also unconditionally release the more than 50 Burmese journalists who are still in detention and lift license revocation orders imposed on many local media, ”said Robertson. Myanmar is also known by its old name, Burma.
Than Zaw Aung said Fenster was charged with his work in a previous job as a journalist and editor of the Myanmar Now online news site.
Myanmar Now, along with several other media, had its license revoked in early March, banning it from posting on any platform. However, it continued to operate online.
Fenster resigned from Myanmar Now in July last year and joined Frontier Myanmar a month later, so it is not known why he was arrested, his lawyer said.
“I don’t know in detail. What I can say is that he was charged as a Myanmar Now staff member. I don’t know if this is a story posted on Myanmar Now or not.
Fenster’s family in the United States, led by his parents and brother Bryan, rallied support for his release with a website, online petition, and contact with their representatives in Congress to keep pressure on the Department of ‘State to push Myanmar on the case. The US government has made repeated calls for media freedom in Myanmar and for Fenster’s release.
Irish rock group U2, which has long been interested in Myanmar’s democracy struggle, tweeted its support for Fenster’s release on Wednesday.
“Journalism is not a crime. We join RepAndyLevin and bryanfenster in calling for the immediate release of journalist Danny Fenster from detention in Myanmar and thank heroic organizations like Freedom of the Press for fighting to protect journalists everywhere – #BringDannyHome, ”a- he declared.