A military court in Myanmar has sentenced Danny Fenster, a 37-year-old American journalist from Detroit, to 11 years in prison, according to a statement from his lawyer. Fester has been detained in Myanmar for more than 5 months now.
Fester was denied bail and has been held in Insein Prison since his arrest on May 24th. Than Zaw Aung, Fester’s lawyer, claimed Fester was found guilty this week of three charges brought against him by the Myanmar military, which seized control of the country in a coup back in February.
The charges against Fester include breaches, unlawful association with an illegal group, and incitement under section 505a of Myanmar’s Penal Code; which makes it a crime to publish or circulate comments that may “cause fear or spread false news.”
About 100 journalists have been detained in the country since the coup, and about 30 remain behind bars. Fester’s lawyer also announced that he has now been hit with two new criminal charges under the nation’s sedition and terrorism laws, which carries a maximum sentence of life in prison.
The new charges were made under Section 124a of Myanmer’s Penal Code, which mandates seven to 20 years in prison for attempting to bring hatred, contempt or disaffection toward the government or military.
The other charge is under “Section 50a of the Counter Terrorism Law, which makes it a crime to have contact with officially designated ‘terrorist’ groups. Under the terrorism charge, Fenster could face a minimum of 10 years in prison and a maximum of life in prison if convicted,” according to his lawyer and Myanmar’s sentencing guidelines.
Fester was initially arrested at Yangon International Airport while trying to leave the country to visit his family in the US. It was unclear why the charges were brought against the former managing editor of Frontier Myanmer.
Frontier Myanmar said in a statement posted on Facebook it was “deeply disappointed at the sentencing. Everyone at Frontier is 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,” said Thomas Keen, Frontier’s Editor-in-Chief.
Frontier Myanmar said the “charges were based on the allegation that Fenster was working for banned media outlet Myanmar Now in the aftermath of the military coup. But Fenster had resigned from Myanmar Now in July 2020, and at the time of his arrest in May 2021 had been working with Frontier for more than nine months.”
“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,” said Kean.
Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch, said the sentence was a “travesty of justice executed by a kangaroo court operating at the beck and call of the Myanmar military junta.”
“The rationale for this outrageous, rights abusing sentence is really twofold: To intimidate all remaining journalists inside Myanmar by punishing Fenster this way, while at the same time sending a message to the US that the Tatmadaw generals don’t appreciate being hit with economic sanctions and can bite back with hostage diplomacy,” Robertson said.
“Journalism is not a crime, and it shouldn’t be treated that way — meaning that Danny Fenster and the many Burmese journalists still behind bars should urgently be freed.”
Eric Mastrota is a Contributing Editor at The National Digest based in New York. A graduate of SUNY New Paltz, he reports on world news, culture, and lifestyle. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.