| 5 February 2023, Sunday |

U.S. journalist jailed for 11 years in army-ruled Myanmar

According to his lawyer and employer, a court in military-ruled Myanmar sentenced American journalist Danny Fenster to 11 years in prison on Friday, despite US demands for his release from what it called arbitrary confinement.

According to his magazine, Fenster, 37, the managing editor of the online magazine Frontier Myanmar, was found guilty of incitement and violations of immigration and unlawful associations restrictions, with sentences described as “the harshest feasible under the law.”

He is the first Western journalist to be imprisoned in Myanmar in recent years, following the military’s Feb. 1 coup against an elected government led by Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, which interrupted a decade of gradual democratic development and spurred widespread protests.

“There is no basis for Danny to be convicted of these claims,” said Thomas Kean, editor-in-chief of Frontier Myanmar, one of the country’s top independent news organizations.

“Everyone at Frontier is disappointed and irritated by this decision. We simply want Danny released as soon as possible so that he can rejoin his family.”

Fenster was arrested while trying to leave the country in May and has since been held in Yangon’s notorious Insein prison, where hundreds of opponents of the Tatmadaw, as the military is known, were jailed, many beaten and tortured, during decades of dictatorship.

He was charged with additional, and more serious, offences of sedition and violations of the terrorism act earlier this week, without an explanation by authorities. Those charges are punishable by a maximum 20 years in prison each.

Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director of Human Rights Watch, said Fenster’s jailing was also intended as warnings to the United States and the media.

“The junta’s rationale for this outrageous, rights abusing sentence is first to shock and intimidate all remaining Burmese journalists inside Myanmar by punishing a foreign journalist this way,” he said.

“The second message is more strategic, focused on sending a message to the U.S. that the Tatmadaw’s generals don’t appreciate being hit with economic sanctions and can bite back with hostage diplomacy,” he said.


Fenster’s family has repeatedly called for his release, saying they were heartbroken about his detention.

His trial had not been made public and a spokesman for the junta did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The United States has been pushing for Fenster’s release. The U.S. embassy in Myanmar did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Friday’s verdict.

The State Department had earlier said his detention was “profoundly unjust” and “plain for the world to see”, urging the junta to release him immediately.

The American is among dozens of journalists who were detained in Myanmar after protests and strikes erupted following the coup, hampering the military’s efforts to consolidate power. Independent media has been accused by the junta of incitement.

More than 1,200 civilians have been killed in protests and thousands detained since the coup, according to activists cited by the United Nations.

Myanmar authorities overlooked Fenster in a recent amnesty for hundreds of people detained over anti-junta protests, which included some journalists.

During nearly half a century of harsh rule by the military, news reporting was tightly controlled by the state but Myanmar’s media blossomed after the a quasi-civilian government introduced tentative reforms from 2011.

Since the February coup, however, the military has rescinded media licenses, curbed the internet and satellite broadcasts and arrested dozens of journalists, in what human rights groups have called an assault on the truth.

The Committee to Protect Journalists said in a report in July that Myanmar’s rulers had effectively criminalised independent journalism.

Ming Yu Hah, Amnesty International’s deputy regional director for campaigns, called the sentence a “reprehensible outcome” in a deeply flawed case.

“Danny should have never been arrested in the first place and to sentence him to a combined 11 years shows how far Myanmar authorities are willing to go to signal that they do not respect independent media,” she said.

Frontier Myanmar’s publisher, Sonny Swe, who spent eight years in prison during the previous era of military rule, announced Fenster’s imprisonment on Twitter under the message: “A lot of things are going so wrong in this country.”

  • Reuters