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Danny Fenster: US journalist detained in Myanmar denied bail, facing new charge

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Danny Fenster: US journalist detained in Myanmar denied bail, facing new charge

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The additional charge – the third against him – falls under section 13 (1) of Myanmar’s Immigration Act, his lawyer Than Zaw Aung told CNN Business. It is a crime to enter the country illegally, to exceed a visa or permit, or to violate the conditions of a stay. It is not known why he was charged with the new offense.

Fenster’s attorney said hearings in his case would now be held daily.

It comes as former US Ambassador to the United Nations Bill Richardson to Myanmar this week raised hopes that Fenster’s release could be secured.

Richardson met with junta leader Min Aung Hlaing in the capital Naypyidaw on Tuesday. The trip has been described by his staff as a personal humanitarian mission to discuss the delivery of Covid-19 vaccines, medical supplies and other public health needs, but the seasoned negotiator has spent decades trying to free the Americans in prison abroad, especially in North Korea.

Images of the Richardson meeting made headlines in Myanmar state media on Wednesday and aired on the Myawaddy military channel.

Why is Danny Fenster detained in Myanmar?

Fenster was arrested at Yangon International Airport as he attempted to board a flight out of the country on May 24. An American citizen from Detroit, Michigan, Fenster had to go home and surprise his parents. He worked in Myanmar’s largest city, Yangon, as editor-in-chief of independent media Frontier Myanmar.
He is one of some 100 journalists detained since the army seized power in the February 1 coup. Despite a massive release of prisoners two weeks ago, 31 media professionals remain behind bars, ASEAN reporting has documented.

It is not known why Fenster was arrested and there are few details on his case. Trials and hearings take place not in civilian courts, but in military courts held within prison walls. Members of the public, journalists and embassy officials are excluded from the proceedings.

Fenster was first charged with incitement under Section 505a of Myanmar’s Criminal Code, which criminalizes posting or broadcasting comments that “scare” or spread “false news”. He is punishable by three years in prison.

Danny Fenster: US journalist detained in Myanmar denied bail, facing new charge

 | Local News

Then last month, the military junta added a further charge of violating section 17 (1) of the Illegal Associations Act.

The law makes it an offense to contact, join or assist groups that have been declared illegal. Since the coup, the military junta has labeled several opposing entities as terrorist groups, including the Civil Disobedience Movement, the Government of National Unity (NUG) – made up of ousted lawmakers and which sees itself as the Myanmar’s legitimate government – and the People’s Defense Forces Party who have taken up arms against the military.

Colonial-era law has long been used to target journalists, activists and ethnic minorities fighting for more rights and autonomy in an attempt to silence them. No reason was given as to why Fenster was charged under this law.

Responding to a question from a Burmese VOA journalist in September, military spokesman Zaw Min Tun said “Fenster has done more than a journalist does.”

“As for journalists, if they are only doing journalistic work, there is no reason to stop them,” Zaw Min Tun reportedly said. “We must hold him under the current circumstances for the time being.”

CNN has contacted the Burmese military for comment.

Campaign to Free an American Citizen

Life in Myanmar after the coup has become nearly impossible for media workers, with many being forced into exile abroad or fleeing to rebel-controlled areas in the jungle.

The junta also tried to silence the country’s media by revoking independent publishing and broadcasting licenses, raiding newspaper offices and targeting journalists to arrest them. Despite the dangerous conditions, many Myanmar journalists and media continue to report, often from shelters or from outside the country.

Fenster’s family is campaigning tirelessly for his release. They are calling on the Biden administration and the US State Department to secure his release and return to the United States.

In September, US State Department spokesman Ned Price said the United States remained “deeply concerned” over Fenster’s continued detention.

“Journalism is not a crime. The detention of Danny Fenster and other journalists is an unacceptable attack on freedom of expression in Burma,” he said, using another name for Myanmar. “We continue to pressure the Burmese military regime to release Danny immediately. We will do so until he returns safely to his family.”

Cape Diamond contributed reporting.

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