Today marks one month since Myanmar’s military junta detained U.S. journalist Danny Fenster. The International Press Institute (IPI) is again calling for Fenster’s release, along with all other journalists being held by the Myanmar regime.
Fenster was managing editor of Frontier Myanmar, a current affairs magazine based in Yangon, at the time of his detention. He was taken into custody by the Myanmar military at Yangon International Airport on May 24 shortly before he was set to travel to Detroit, Michigan, to see his family.
In an Instagram post, Bryan Fenster, Danny’s brother, said the family learned June 22 that the U.S. Embassy in Yangon was finally able to speak with Danny.
“…While we still don’t know much, by all accounts, he seems to be in good form and unharmed”, Fenster wrote.
Fenster is being held in Insein Prison in Yangon, where he appeared in court on June 17, according to a statement from Frontier Myanmar. Frontier Myanmar has reported on events in Myanmar leading up to and in the aftermath of the country’s military coup in February. Since the coup, there has been a violent crackdown on journalists and members of the press throughout the country.
“Myanmar must immediately release Danny and allow him to travel freely”, IPI Deputy Director Scott Griffen said. “His arbitrary jailing is an egregious violation of fundamental rights, including press freedom, and designed to intimidate journalists in Myanmar from covering the pro-democracy movement. He must be freed, together with all other imprisoned reporters in the country.”
Fenster was charged under Section 505-A of Myanmar’s penal code, which criminalizes the spreading of “false news” and has been commonly applied by the regime against journalists, including U.S. journalist Nathan Maung, who was released from Insein on June 14.
“Following a brief hearing, Danny was remanded to Insein Prison for two weeks and is scheduled to appear again in court on July 1. No reason was given for the filing of the charge against him”, Frontier Myanmar said in its statement. “We are still seeking information on the reason for Danny’s arrest and continued detention. Nevertheless, we know that Danny has done nothing to warrant this 505-A charge.”
Bryan Fenster told IPI the family doesn’t know what will happen after July 1.
“It’s terrible what’s happening to Danny. Our first priority is to get him home immediately”, he said. “But there is a bigger story here about democracy, about a free press, about human rights. This is a regime that does not want to be part of a global society. They do not want information being shared.”
Over the last month, the Fenster family has been working around the clock to secure Danny‘s release through their campaign, #BringDannyHome. U.S. lawmakers and other public figures have echoed the family’s call for his release.
U.S. State Department spokesman Ned Price urged Myanmar authorities to grant U.S. officials access to Fenster “without delay and to ensure the proper treatment of Danny”.
“He was just so excited to be in Myanmar, a country that was just starting to develop into this democracy where there was a free flow of information and an open society”, Bryan Fenster said of his brother. “He felt a responsibility when things turned south to inform the world about what was happening”.