US journalist Danny Fenster was was sentenced to 11 years in prison by a court in military-ruled Myanmar outside Yangon's Insein prison on Friday, November 12. Fenster, 37, was found guilty of incitement for allegedly spreading false information, among many charges. The managing editor of the online magazine Frontier Myanmar, Fenster was detained at Yangon International Airport on May 24 as he was about to board a flight to the United States.
Editor-in-chief Thomas Kean noted that everyone at Frontier was disappointed and frustrated at this decision. "We just want to see Danny released as soon as possible so he can go home to his family," Kean said in a statement. Fenster is the first and the only foreign journalist so far to be convicted in Myanmar since the army seized power overthrowing the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi in February.
Who is Danny Fenster?
Danny Fenster is an American journalist who worked and lived in Myanmar for roughly two years. Fenster joined Frontier Myanmar in August last year. He was awarded the 2021 John Aubuchon Press Freedom Award by National Press Club. Having grown up in Detroit, Michigan, Fenster worked for news outlets in Detroit and Louisiana before moving to Myanmar.
Charges on Danny Fenster
Apart from spreading false information, Fenster was found guilty of getting in contact with illegal organizations and violating visa regulations, lawyer Than Zaw Aung noted. Fenster was given the maximum term on each charge. He is also facing two additional charges for allegedly violating the counterterrorism law and a statute covering treason and sedition in a different court in Yangon.
The new military-backed government in Myanmar has hit press freedom in the country hard by shutting down most critical outlets and arresting journalists. Around 30 of them are still in jail. It was not clear what exactly Fenster was alleged to have done. The prosecution's case was majorly built on Fenster working for Myanmar Now, one of the media outlets that had been ordered closed this year by the new government. Fenster, however, had left his job at Myanmar Now in July last year, and joined Frontier Myanmar the next month.
"There is absolutely no basis to convict Danny of these charges. His legal team clearly demonstrated to the court that he had resigned from Myanmar Now and was working for Frontier from the middle of last year," Thomas Kean spoke of the sentencing. Fenster's trial was closed to the press and the public. The sentencing comes after a former United States diplomat and hostage negotiator, Bill Richardson met with the coup leader Senior General Min Aung Hlaing.