Levin, family raise concerns over health of detained journalist Danny Fenster
Washington — The family of detained journalist Danny Fenster and their congressman are raising concerns about the health of the Michigan native being held in a prison in Myanmar that is experiencing an outbreak of COVID-19.
U.S. Rep. Andy Levin, who represents the Fenster family in Congress, said during a recent call U.S. officials learned that Danny began experiencing chest congestion and a fever earlier this week but has not been tested for the virus.
"Danny received some decongestants and was feeling somewhat better at the time of the call, but he is not receiving adequate medical care," Levin, a Bloomfield Township Democrat, said in a Friday statement.
Levin said Insein Prison, where Fenster is being held, has an outbreak among staff and inmates of COVID-19, though prison officials are claiming to have the situation under control. The U.S. Embassy has also been denied in its requests to vaccinate Fenster for weeks as the virus situation in the country has worsened, Levin said.
“This is obviously immensely concerning. Prison officials claim Danny does not have COVID but have provided no evidence to back up that claim," Levin said.
"We are redoubling our efforts to obtain his earliest possible release for health reasons— as well as because he is completely innocent of any wrongdoing under Burmese law, and we believe the regime has concluded they should let him go."
In a Facebook post Friday, Fenster's brother, Bryan, said "our fears were realized when he (Danny) shared that he had been having heaviness in his chest and felt weak and extremely feverish earlier in the week.
"He was not tested, but given a decongestant and sent on his way," Bryan Fenster continued. "Although he was feeling slightly better at the time of our call, symptoms can come back at any time as we all know from this past year, and this new variant is no joke."
Bryan Fenster added: "With the increasing COVID crisis and lack of access to proper health care, every day that Danny stays at in detainment becomes more and more perilous. Please. We urge the military to please let Danny go."
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, who is managing editor of the online magazine Frontier Myanmar, had a hearing July 1 and his detention at Yangon’s Insein Prison was extended again.
Hearings and trials, including Fenster's next hearing on July 15, will be virtual, Levin said, noting that the Burmese military has denied in-person access to Fenster by U.S. Embassy officials as required by the Vienna Convention.
Levin noted that the junta has signaled that it will handle Fenster's case in a similar manner to the cases of Burmese-American journalist Nathan Maung and Japanese journalist Yuki Kitazumi, both of them have been released. However, U.S. officials have received no details from the military as to the timeline for Fenster's case.
The State Department, which has pressed the military regime to release Fenster immediately, said in a Friday statement that consular officers spoke with him for the third time by phone on Friday, with members of his family also on the call.
“We urge the Burmese regime to ensure proper treatment of Daniel while he remains detained,” the department statement reads. “Daniel did report experiencing COVID-like symptoms. We are monitoring his health closely. This reinforces the urgent need for his immediate release.”
The State Department is concerned with rising COVID-19 infection rates in Burma and said it has urged the military regime to release Fenster in light of declining public health conditions.
Bryan Fenster told The Detroit News his family plans to meet with department officials this weekend.
"Hopefully we can get some details," he said. "We're on pins and needles. We're not sure what’s going to happen."