American journalist Danny Fenster sentenced to 11 years in prison in Myanmar

Fenster, 37, from Detroit, Michigan, has been detained in Myanmar for more than five months. He has been denied bail and has been held in Insein Prison in the country’s largest city Yangon since his arrest on May 24.

At a court hearing on Friday, his lawyer Than Zaw Aung said Fenster was found guilty of three charges brought against him by the Myanmar military, which took control of the country in a coup on February 1.

Those charges include visa violations, illegal association with an illegal group, and incitement under section 505a of the Myanmar Penal Code, which makes it a crime to post or circulate comments that “cause fear” or spread “false news.” Fenster also received a local currency fine equivalent to $ 50.

Earlier this week, he was charged with two new criminal charges under the country’s sedition and terrorism laws, which carry a maximum sentence of life in prison, his lawyer said.

They include charges under Section 124a of the Myanmar Penal Code, which mandates between seven and 20 years in prison for attempting to generate hatred, contempt or disaffection towards the government and the military.

The other charge is under Section 50 of the Counter-Terrorism Act, which makes it a crime to have contact with officially designated “terrorist” groups. Under the terrorism charge, Fenster could face a minimum of 10 years in prison and a maximum of life in prison if convicted, according to his lawyer and Myanmar’s sentencing guidelines.

These charges will be heard separately.

It was unclear why the charges were brought against the former editor-in-chief of Frontier Myanmar, an independent news outlet that covered current affairs, business and politics in Myanmar. Fenster was arrested at Yangon International Airport while trying to leave the country to see his family in the United States.

CNN Business has reached out to the Myanmar military for comment.

‘Parody of justice’

Frontier Myanmar said in a statement posted on Facebook that it was “deeply disappointed” by the ruling.

“Everyone at Frontier is disappointed and frustrated with this decision. We just want Danny to be released as soon as possible so that he can go home to his family,” said Thomas Keen, Frontier’s editor-in-chief.

Frontier Myanmar said the charges were based on the allegation that Fenster worked for the banned media outlet Myanmar Now after the military coup. But Frontier said Fenster had resigned from Myanmar Now in July 2020, and at the time of his arrest in May 2021 he had been working with Frontier for more than nine months.

Parents of journalist detained in Myanmar: 'It's a total nightmare'

Fenster received a sentence of three years for the incitement charge, three years for the illegal association charge and five years for the immigration charge, Frontier said, adding that the sentences imposed were the harshest possible under the law.

“There is absolutely no basis to convict Danny on these charges. His legal team clearly demonstrated to the court that he had resigned from Myanmar Now and was working for Frontier since the middle of last year,” Kean said.

Phil Robertson, Deputy Director for Asia At Human Rights Watch, he said the sentence was a “travesty of justice carried out by a kangaroo court operating at the behest of the Myanmar military junta.”

“The motive for this scandalous rights abuse ruling is really twofold: to intimidate all remaining journalists inside Myanmar by punishing Fenster in this way, while at the same time sending a message to the United States that the Tatmadaw generals They don’t appreciate being hit with sanctions and they can fight back with hostage diplomacy, “Robertson said.

“Journalism is not a crime and should not be treated that way, which means that Danny Fenster and the many Burmese journalists who remain behind bars should be released urgently.”

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