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Myanmar: PEN International Calls for Immediate Release of US Journalist

Wednesday 26 May 2021 - 11:07am


Danny Fenster (Image courtesy of Bryan Fenster)

Update - 15 November 2021

On Monday, Danny Fenster was "pardoned" before being released from prison by the military junta, just days after being charged with sedition and terrorism offenses.

Now safely back in the US (a recording of his press conference can be found here), his release on "humanitarian" grounds serves to highlight the spurious nature of the charges brought against him. Our thoughts are with the many Myanmar writers, poets, journalists, and others who remain detained on similar charges for their peaceful expression.

Update - 12 November 2021

This morning, Danny Fenster was sentenced to 11 years' imprisonment after being convicted on three charges.

The charges include violating the country’s immigration laws, unlawful association with an illegal group, and incitement under section 505-a of Myanmar's Penal Code.

The charges reportedly hinge on the false allegation that Danny was working for the Myanmar Now news agency which was banned by the military junta following the 1 February 2020 coup. This has been publicly contested by Myanmar Now, who assert that Danny Fenster had resigned from the agency in June 2020 before joining another news agency, Frontier Myanmar, a month later. By the time the military coup took place, Danny Fenster had already been working for Frontier Myanmar for six months.

Despite being presented with abundant evidence of his employment with Frontier Myanmar that included tax records and witness testimony from a colleague, the court has handed down the maximum sentence for each of the three charges.

Danny still faces two additional serious charges of committing sedition (Article 124-a of the Penal Code) and violating a statute in the newly revised Counter-Terrorism Act (Article 50-a). Both charges were added on 9 November, just three days before today's sentencing.

PEN International calls for the immediate overturning of Danny's unjust conviction, the dropping of all remaining charges against him, and to allow him to leave the country freely.

Update - 14 June 2021

We have received reports that US journalist Nathan Maung has been released from detention after the charges against him were withdrawn. While we welcome the news, he should never have been detained for his journalistic work and we continue our call for the immediate and unconditional release of all those who remain wrongfully detained by the Myanmar's military junta.

PEN International is alarmed over reports that a US journalist Danny Fenster was detained by the junta forces in Myanmar as he was attempting to leave the country on Monday. His detention marks the latest disturbing escalation in the military junta’s efforts to silence independent reporting in the country after it seized power on 1 February 2021.

On 24 May 2021, Danny Fenster, who works as managing editor for independent news outlet Frontier Myanmar, was reportedly detained by junta forces in Yangon International Airport while he was about to embark on a flight to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, as part of a journey to visit his family back in the United States. According to his employer, Fenster was subsequently transferred to Insein prison, near Yangon.

The unelected leaders of Myanmar continue to disregard international laws and norms with impunity. Danny Fenster, an American citizen, was about to leave Myanmar for Malaysia, for onward journey to the United States. Instead, he has been arrested and sent to the notorious Insein Prison. Fenster is a journalist whose publication, Frontier Myanmar, is one of the few independent media entities reporting accurately and fearlessly about the situation in Myanmar. Every individual has the right to travel freely, and while governments can place reasonable restrictions on some individuals, it can only be done with due process, following court orders, and under the law. Fenster joins other foreign journalists that Myanmar has arrested in recent months, and he – and the others – must be released unconditionally, and be allowed to return to Myanmar if he wishes to do so. Myanmar must also remove restrictions placed on the media, including periodic crackdowns on access to the Internet, and release other journalists, writers, poets, and human rights defenders it has arrested since the military staged its illegal coup,’ said Salil Tripathi, chair of PEN International’s Writers in Prison Committee.

Danny Fenster’s detention is one of a growing number of cases of international journalists who have been targeted by the military junta in recent weeks, including the arrest and later release of Japanese journalist, Yuuki Kitazumi, and Polish journalist, Robert Bociaga. Another US journalist, Nathan Maung, was detained on 9 March and is yet to be released.

The targeting of international journalists reflects a brazen escalation of the military junta’s efforts to silence any reporting of its campaign of terror, which has resulted in at least 824 civilian deaths, and thousands more detained and at risk of torture. Since the coup began, the military junta has detained dozens of local journalists, imposed extensive internet blackouts, and forced the shutdown of numerous news agencies.

PEN International condemns the military junta’s brutal suppression of the people of Myanmar and calls for the immediate and unconditional release of all those wrongfully detained.

For further information please contact Ross Holder, Asia Programme Coordinator at PEN International, Unit A, Koops Mill, 162-164 Abbey Street, London, SE1 2AN, Tel.+ 44 (0) 20 7405 0338, email: ross.holder@pen-international.org