Updated Nov 12, 2021 - World

U.S. journalist jailed for 11 years in Myanmar

Rose Fenster (L), mother of journalist Danny Fenster, who's detained in Myanmar, stands with supporters in Huntington Woods, Michigan, on June 4
Rose Fenster (L), mother of detained journalist Danny Fenster, with supporters in Huntington Woods, Mich., in June. Photo: Jeff Kowalsky/AFP via Getty Images

A Myanmar military court sentenced American journalist Danny Fenster to 11 years in prison Friday, his employer Frontier Myanmar announced after a closed hearing in Yangon.

Details: The 37-year-old Frontier Myanmar managing editor was found guilty of "breaching immigration law, unlawful association and encouraging dissent against the military," per the BBC. He's also facing further charges of sedition and terrorism.

  • The magazine noted that Fenster's sentence was "the harshest possible under the law."
  • "There is absolutely no basis to convict Danny of these charges," said Frontier Myanmar editor-in-chief Thomas Kean in a statement.

Context: Authorities arrested Fenster in May as he was about to board a plane at Yangon International Airport and depart the country," the New York Times notes.

  • "The charges were all based on the allegation that he was working for banned media outlet Myanmar Now," Frontier Myanmar said in a statement, per the BBC.
  • "Danny had resigned from Myanmar Now in July 2020 and joined Frontier the following month, so at the time of his arrest in May 2021 he had been working with Frontier for more than nine months."

Of note: Fenster is the first Western journalist to be sentenced to prison in Myanmar since the military detained Aung San Suu Kyi and ousted her elected government in a Feb. 1 coup.

  • AP journalist Thein Zaw spent some three weeks in custody before being released in March after being arrested while covering a protest against the coup.

What they're saying: A spokesperson for the State Department, which has repeatedly called for Fenster's release since his arrest, strongly condemned his sentencing and said it "represents an unjust conviction of an innocent person."

  • "We are closely monitoring Danny’s situation and will continue to work for his immediate release," the spokesperson said. 
  • "We will do so until Danny returns home safely to his family. Danny’s detention, and that of so many other people, is a sad reminder of the continuing human rights and humanitarian crisis facing Burma. "  
"Journalism is not a crime.  Free and independent media is indispensable to building prosperous, resilient, and free societies.  The detention, conviction, and sentencing of Danny Fenster, and the arrest of other journalists and use of violence against members of the media, constitutes an unacceptable attack on freedom of expression in Burma."
State Department

The big picture: A UN investigator said last week that preliminary evidence collected since the military junta seized power shows a systematic attack on civilians "amounting to crimes against humanity."

  • Since the coup, hundreds of people have been killed in Myanmar and thousands of others arrested as part of a crackdown on anti-coup demonstrators.

What's next: Fenster is due to stand trial on the sedition and terrorism charges this Tuesday, the BBC notes.

  • He could face a maximum sentence of life in prison for those charges.

Go deeper: Journalists face record levels of persecution globally

Editor's note: This article has been updated with new details throughout.

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