U.S. loses contact with Detroit journalist in Myanmar prison

The Detroit News

A Detroit native being held in a Myanmar prison hasn’t been in contact with U.S. officials for several weeks, the State Department said Thursday.

Danny Fenster, who was working for a Myanmar magazine at the time of his arrest, lost contact with the U.S. Consulate after a protest at Insein prison.

But Ned Price, a spokesman for the State Department, said his agency was closely monitoring the situation and continuing to press the country to release him.

“This is a priority for us,” said Price. “We remain deeply concerned.”

Price said the consulate had spoken with Fenster several times by phone before the prison protest, and that Fenster’s family had been a part of the calls.

Danny Fenster, a Detroit native who was working for a Myanmar magazine at the time of his arrest, lost contact with the U.S. Consulate after a protest at Insein prison and has not been in contact with U.S. officials or his family for several weeks.

He said the detention of Fenster, the arrests of other journalists and the use of the Burmese military against reporters is unacceptable.

“Journalism is not a crime,” he said. “Free and independent media, it’s indispensable in building a prosperous, resilient, free society.”

Price made his comments in response to a question by a reporter for Reuters.

Prior to the Reuters reporter’s query, Fenster’s brother had tried to reach Price but hadn’t received a response.

The brother, Bryan Fenster, thanked the Reuters reporter for his question.

“The support of his fellow journalists just may be the thing that brings him home to us,” Bryan Fenster wrote on Twitter.

Fenster's family and their congressman, U.S. Rep. Andy Levin, raised concerns in early July about Danny Fenster's health as the Myanmar prison was experiencing an outbreak of COVID-19.

Levin, D-Bloomfield Township, said at the time Fenster was not receiving adequate medical care and that Insein prison was experiencing an outbreak among staff and inmates of COVID-19, though prison officials claimed to have the situation under control. The U.S. Embassy was denied requests to vaccinate Fenster as the virus situation in the country worsened, Levin said.

Fenster, 37, was stopped by authorities at Yangon International Airport on May 24 as he was about to board a flight to Malaysia on his way to the Detroit area to see his family in Huntington Woods. He faces an incitement charge that carries a penalty of up to three years’ imprisonment.

Fenster is managing editor of the online magazine Frontier Myanmar.