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Myanmar extends detention of journalist and Metro Detroit native Danny Fenster

Grant Peck
Associated Press

Bangkok — Danny Fenster, the American journalist in Myanmar detained last month by authorities, made an appearance Thursday in a special court in the prison where he is being held, his employer said.

A statement from the online news and business magazine Frontier Myanmar, where Fenster is managing editor, said he faces a charge that carries a potential three-year prison term.

Danny Fenster

The charge, used frequently against dissidents and journalists, criminalizes “any attempt to cause fear, spread false news, or agitate directly or indirectly a criminal offense against a government employee.” The magazine said it did not know the reason for the charge.

U.S. Rep. Andy Levin, who represents Fenster in Congress, said Fenster still has not been given consular access to U.S. officials who continue to try to see him. They were not allowed to attend his hearing Thursday. 

"He has always conducted himself respectfully and in adherence to the laws, codes and customs of Myanmar," said Levin, a Bloomfield Township Democrat.

"Danny Fenster has done nothing wrong. It is past time for him to come home ... I once again call for his immediate and unconditional release."

The military government in Myanmar has tried to silence independent news media by withdrawing the licenses they must obtain to publish or broadcast and by arresting journalists.

According to Myanmar’s Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, about 90 journalists have been arrested since the army seized power in February and more than half of them are still detained.

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The court ordered Fenster’s continued detention at Yangon’s Insein Prison for two weeks, scheduling his next hearing for July 1.

Myanmar authorities on Monday released another U.S. journalist, Nathan Maung, who was arrested in March while working for a local online news agency.

Maung was deported on Tuesday to the U.S. after charges against him were dropped and his case dismissed. However, a colleague at Kamayut Media who was arrested with him, Myanmar citizen Hanthar Nyein, remains imprisoned.

The parents of detained journalist Danny Fenster, Buddy Fenster (L) and Rose Fenster (C) and brother Bryan Fenster (R) gather in Huntington Woods on June 4, 2021.

Frontier said Fenster was represented Thursday by a lawyer but that “representatives from Frontier were not given permission to attend.

The magazine’s statement added: “We are still seeking information on the reason for Danny’s arrest and continued detention.”

Fenster, 37, was detained at Yangon International Airport on May 24 as he prepared to board a flight to Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, en route to the Detroit area to see his family.

Two Myanmar journalists who were arrested more than a month ago were released Thursday, the wife of one of them said.

Voice of Myanmar Editor-in-Chief Nay Myo Lin and reporter Shine Aung were arrested on April 27 when they obeyed an order to report themselves for questioning about articles judged to be anti-military.

Both returned to their homes after they were released when the cases against them were dropped, said Zarni Mann, who is Nay Myo Lin’s wife. Voice of Myanmar, an online news service suspended operations following their arrests.

“We have said that journalism is not a crime. But not only Nay Myo Lin but also many other journalists have been prosecuted and detained in the prisons. I want all other detained journalists to be released, just like Nay Myo Lin,” said Zarni Mann.