Family of US journalist detained in Myanmar calls for his release

Danny Fenster’s family say they believe the journalist has contracted COVID-19 in Myanmar prison.

Fenster's father Buddy said he was optimistic about the prospects for his son's release [File: Fenster Family Photo via AFP]

Family members of a United States journalist held by Myanmar’s military have appealed for his release as they marked the 100th day of his arrest.

Danny Fenster’s mother, Rose, told reporters on Tuesday that her son is believed to have contracted COVID-19 during his detention at the Insein Prison in Yangon, Myanmar’s largest city.

The 37-year-old appeared to be suffering from “brain fog” and reported a loss of taste and smell during his last call with family members on August 1, said Rose. But he has not been tested.

Fenster’s mother said she has only had limited communication with her son, who was arrested on May 24 at the international airport in Yangon as he tried to board a plane out of the country.

The managing editor of the Frontier Myanmar news outlet, Fenster has been accused of incitement, including by spreading false information. If convicted, he could be imprisoned for up to three years.

“It’s been a tough 100 days – it’s hard to believe it’s 100 days – but we are grateful for our community’s support,” his mother said.

The journalist’s father, Buddy Fenster, said he was optimistic about the prospects for his son’s release.

“They haven’t charged him, and I think that’s something,” he said.

“We’re just trying to stay tough – as tough as Danny is – and we’re not going to stop until we get him home,” the father said during the news conference.

Fenster’s brother, Bryan, added that the journalist was not an activist or even a working reporter but “someone who was sitting behind a desk”.

Based on recent calls, Bryan said “his voice sounds strong … he still has a sense of humour which is amazing but you can feel and hear the anxiety and frustration in his voice at the same time”.

The family’s appeal for Fenster’s release comes days ahead of an upcoming hearing on September 6, with no clear information about the next steps.

Fenster had been working for Frontier Myanmar for about a year at the time of his arrest. He was detained as he headed to the US to see his family.

The US Department of State said last month that the Myanmar military has denied the US embassy’s requests to see Fenster.

“No reason was given for the filing of the charge against him,” the statement said.

The US’s National Press Club announced on Monday that Fenster will receive the 2021 John Aubuchon Press Freedom Award, which recognises journalists who bravely push to disclose the truth in trying circumstances.

Myanmar has been in turmoil since the military seized power in a February 1 coup, with near-daily protests and a huge civil disobedience movement. More than 850 civilians have been killed across the country in a continuing military crackdown, according to a local monitoring group.

The country’s press has also been squeezed as the military tries to tighten control over the flow of information, throttling internet access and revoking the licences of local media outlets.

The military has jailed dozens of journalists since its power grab and revised its penal code to include spreading “fake news” as a crime.

Meanwhile, daily protests against the military-led government continued on Wednesday, with young people and other activists holding marches in eastern Dawei and the city of Shwebo in the Sagaing region among other places.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies