US journalist Danny Fenster jailed for 11 years in Myanmar

Frontier magazine managing editor has been accused of a range of offences including incitement, sedition and ‘terrorism’.

Danny Fenster, pictured in Yangon in 2020, has been jailed for 11 years by a Myanmar court [File: Fenster Family photo via AP Photo]

Danny Fenster, a journalist at Myanmar’s Frontier magazine, has been jailed for 11 years by a court in the military-controlled country.

The 37-year-old was detained at Yangon airport in May, and found guilty on three charges, his employer said in a statement.

Frontier said the decision was announced outside Yangon’s Insein prison on Friday morning, following a trial closed to the press and the public. The sentences – for incitement and contacting opposition groups declared illegal by the military – were the “harshest possible” under the law, it said.

The charges were connected to a claim that Fenster was working for Myanmar Now, even though he left the online media outlet in June last year.

Fenster joined Frontier, where he is managing editor, in July 2020. Frontier noted that the court had disregarded key evidence, including tax records, which confirmed Fenster’s employment at the news magazine.

“There is absolutely no basis to convict Danny of these charges,” Frontier Editor-in-Chief Thomas Kean wrote in the statement shared on social media.

“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. Everyone at Frontier is disappointed and frustrated at this decision.”

The ruling comes days after Bill Richardson, a former United States diplomat and hostage negotiator, met coup leader Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, and after prosecutors slapped additional charges of ‘terrorism’ and sedition on Fenster.

The military detained elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi and other senior officials on February 1 seizing power for itself. The move prompted mass protests and a civil disobedience movement to which the generals have responded with force, killing more than 1,250 people and detaining at least 10,000, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, which has been monitoring the situation.

Ned Price, the spokesperson for the US State Department, said the United States condemned the court’s decision as an “unjust conviction of an innocent person”.

“We are closely monitoring Danny’s situation and will continue to work for his immediate release,” Price said in a statement. “We will do so until Danny returns home safely to his family.

Human rights groups also criticised the case.

Phil Robertson, the deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch, said the court’s decision was “outrageous”.

“(The) charges against him are trumped up & bogus, he’s committed no crimes!” Robertson wrote on Twitter.

Ming Yu Hah, Amnesty International’s Deputy Regional Director for Campaigns called it a “reprehensible outcome” in a “deeply flawed case”.

“Danny is a prisoner of conscience. His liberty was taken away from him cruelly and unjustly, solely for doing his work as a journalist and exercising his right to freedom of speech,” Hah said in a statement.

Since the coup, the military has also imposed internet blackouts, shut down satellite television and cracked down on independent media, revoking the publishing licences of a number of Myanmar news organisations including Myanmar Now.

Fenster is among some 100 journalists who have been detained since February. About 30 remain in jail.

In June, two journalists – one from the news outlet Mizzima and one from the Democratic Voice of Burma or DVB – were jailed under a colonial-era law that the generals had revised to make spreading “false news” a crime.

Source: Al Jazeera