Myanmar Military Sentences American Journalist to 11 Years in Prison

Danny Fenster was arrested at the airport trying to leave Myanmar in May. He has not been heard from since.
Danny Fenster was arrested at the airport trying to leave the country in May. He has not been heard from since.
US journalist Danny Fenster working in New Iberia, Louisiana. Photo: FENSTER FAMILY / AFP

A U.S. journalist has been sentenced to a total of 11 years in prison by a military court in Myanmar, convicted of breaching the country’s immigration law, unlawful association and encouraging dissent. 

Danny Fenster was arrested in May at Yangon international airport when attempting to leave the country. The 37-year-old managing editor of magazine Frontier Myanmar has been held in Yangon’s infamous Insein Prison for the past six months, shut off from virtually all contact with the outside world. 

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The exact nature of Fenster’s alleged crimes remains nebulous, but his lawyer said on Friday shortly after his conviction that they related to supposedly spreading false or inflammatory information. A statement from Frontier Myanmar said that the charges relate to his work with a previous publication.  

“The charges were all based on the allegation that he was working for banned media outlet Myanmar Now in the aftermath of the Feb. 1 military coup,” it read. “The court disregarded a significant amount of evidence of his employment at Frontier, including tax and social security records and testimony from a Frontier employee.”

Earlier this week, Fenster, originally from Detroit, was handed two further charges carrying a life sentence under the country’s counter-terrorism law. These charges will be heard separately at a trial on Nov. 16. 

Fenster was caught up in a media crackdown by the junta in the aftermath of the February 1 military coup that toppled Aung San Suu Kyi’s government and plunged the country into chaos. Human Rights Watch labelled the decision "a travesty of justice by a kangaroo court," and one intended to intimidate any journalists working in the country. 

The past nine months have seen dozens of local journalists arrested and charged for their reporting, while Fenster is among a handful of foreign journalists, including Japanese freelance reporter Yuki Kitazumi, to be detained. Kitazumi was arrested on accusations of spreading fake news, but was later released at the request of the Japanese government. 

The U.S. government has also pressed the Myanmar military to release Fenster, but with Friday’s verdict, he became the only foreign reporter to be convicted since the coup. U.S. diplomats are now reported to be working on securing his release. 

"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 Kean, Frontier's Editor-in-Chief.

Follow Alastair McCready on Twitter.