Detained US journalist makes appearance in Myanmar court

Danny Fenster makes an appearance on an ‘incitement’ charge, but the US consular authorities have not been able to see him.

US journalist Danny Fenster, who was detained last month, appeared in a special court on June 17. Consular officials have not been able to meet him and nor have his lawyers [File: Fenster Family via AFP]

Danny Fenster, an American journalist arrested last month by Myanmar authorities, has made an appearance in a special court in the prison where he is being held, his employer said.

However, US consular officials are still being denied access to Fenster, State Department spokesman Ned Price said on Thursday.

A statement from Frontier Myanmar, the current affairs magazine where Fenster is managing editor, said he faces a charge of incitement, which carries a potential three-year prison term.

The charge, used frequently against dissidents and journalists, criminalises “any attempt to cause fear, spread false news, or agitate directly or indirectly a criminal offense against a government employee”.

The magazine said it did not know the reason for the charge.

“We know that Danny has done nothing to warrant this charge,” Frontier Myanmar said in a statement. “We condemn his detention and demand his immediate and unconditional release.”

Soldiers board a school bus outside a high school in Yangon, Myanmar, on June 1, 2021. Schools in Myanmar open even after the military suspended thousands of teachers for joining a civil disobedience movement protesting against the military coup [File: Stringer/EPA-EFE]

“Finally some movement, but our frustration is mounting,” Fenster’s brother Bryan wrote on Twitter. “A hearing without official communication with the US Consulate or our family. Continued detainment without access to legal counsel or official charges against him. Denial of US Consulate access to both Danny and his hearing, despite repeated requests over the past 25 days.”

The military, which seized power from the elected government on February 1, has tried to silence independent news media by withdrawing the licences they must obtain to publish or broadcast and by arresting dozens of journalists. Satellite television has also been banned and internet services curtailed.

Another US journalist, Nathan Maung – who was also arrested in Myanmar, has been returned to the US after his release earlier this month, Price said on a Thursday briefing call with reporters.

“We are doing everything we can to see to it that Danny Fenster is reunited with his family,” Price said. “We are, of course, very gratified by the release and the safe return of Nathan Maung, who recently arrived back in the United States and has had an opportunity to meet and to speak with senior Department of State officials.”

Myanmar has been in crisis since the February coup and the generals have struggled to impose order amid mass protests against their rule and a civil disobedience movement that has paralysed parts of the economy.

Clashes have also intensified in Myanmar’s restive border areas where decades-long conflicts with ethnic armed groups have reignited. Some protesters have also sought training with the armed groups, while the National Unity Government (NUG) – a parallel administration made up of the elected politicians who were overthrown by the generals – said in May it would set up a national level People’s Defence Force.

The military regime has blamed the violence on “terrorists” and arrested more than 6,000 people since the coup, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, a human rights group. Some 865 people have been killed, although the military says the figure is lower.

The United Nations in Myanmar said on Thursday it was alarmed by recent acts of violence that illustrated a “sharp deterioration of the human rights environment”.

It highlighted the discovery of mass graves, and the burning of Kin Ma village this week that witnesses said was carried out by security forces.

Although the bulk of international criticism has been directed at the regime, there are also concerns about the conduct of rebel forces and recently formed guerrilla movements.

An ethnic political group fighting the army in the east has said it will investigate accusations in state-run media that its forces abducted a group of 47 people last month, and killed 25 of them.

The state-run Global New Light of Myanmar newspaper and army controlled Myawaddy Television this week showed pictures of what appeared to be 25 bodies in a forest clearing and accused fighters from the Karen National Defence Organisation (KNDO) of carrying out the atrocity.

The Karen National Union, the KNDO’s political wing, said in a letter dated June 16 that its investigation aimed to establish the truth.

“The Karen National Union follows the Geneva Convention which doesn’t accept killing civilians during armed fighting,” it said.

The UN General Assembly is set on Friday to call for a stop to the flow of arms to Myanmar, as well as to urge the military to respect the results of November’s election and release political detainees, diplomats said.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies