Myanmar adds new charges against imprisoned Michigan journalist Danny Fenster
Update, 11/12/2021 at 7:35 p.m.: Danny Fenster, the Detroit-area native and journalist arrested by Myanmar’s military government last June, is now facing new charges.
Fenster, an editor with the online news magazine Frontier Myanmar, was arrested as he tried to board a flight home to Metro Detroit last June. He’s been imprisoned there ever since. Myanmar’s government has been using national security laws to silence journalists and quash dissent.
Fenster’s court case on charges including incitement for allegedly spreading misinformation wrapped up this week. His trial has been closed to the media and the public, and little is known about the evidence against him or even the basis for the charges.
But the government is now adding two new charges—terrorism and sedition. Fenster’s lawyer, Than Zaw Aung, told the New York Times he has “no idea” why, and that a hearing on those charges is expected next week. Aung also told the Associated Press that he expects a verdict in Fenster’s current case next Monday.
Fenster’s family declined to comment Wednesday on the additional charges, but they have been campaigning for his release ever since his arrest, as have advocates for press freedom. U.S. lawmakers including Michigan Congressman Andy Levin (D-Bloomfield Township) and the U.S. State Department have also tried to pressure Myanmar into dropping the charges and deporting Fenster. But the country’s military rulers, who seized power in a coup earlier this year, have so far only doubled down.
If convicted on the latest charges, Fenster could face decades in prison.
Original Post, 11/3/2021 at 1:16 p.m.: A court in Myanmar on Wednesday rejected the bail application of Danny Fenster, an American journalist jailed for the past five months, and added a new charge against him, his lawyer said.
Fenster had already been charged with incitement for allegedly spreading false or inflammatory information, an offense punishable by up to three years in prison. He is also charged with violating the Unlawful Associations Act for alleged links to illegal opposition groups, which carries a possible two-to-three year prison term.
His lawyer, Than Zaw Aung, said a new charge of violating immigration law was added Wednesday, under a catch-all provision that calls for a prison term of six months to five years for violating visa conditions.
The court’s actions come during a visit to Myanmar by Bill Richardson, a former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. He said he is on a mission to discuss humanitarian aid to strife-torn Myanmar with leaders of its military-installed government.
Myanmar has been mired in violence and civil unrest since the military seized power in February, ousting the elected government of Aung San Suu Kyi.
Protesters against the takeover who faced beatings, shootings and arrests have turned increasingly to armed resistance, and insurgents are active in many parts of the country.
Richardson’s visit raised hopes that he might seek Fenster’s release because he is known for his past efforts to gain the freedom of Americans detained in countries with which Washington has poor relations, such as North Korea.
The United States is highly critical of army rule in Myanmar and has instituted diplomatic and economic sanctions targeting its military leadership.
Fenster, managing editor of the online news magazine Frontier Myanmar, was detained at Yangon International Airport on May 24 as he was about to board a flight to go to the Detroit area in the United States to see his family. It is still unclear why he was arrested, though the charges involve his work at his previous employer, another online news service, which he left in the middle of last year.
His lawyer said his application for release on bail on the sedition charge was rejected Wednesday by the judge, who said it is not allowed under the law.
Than Zaw Aung also said he cross-examined seven prosecution witnesses on Wednesday for the incitement and unlawful association charges, including police and airport security personnel.
He did not provide details of their testimony.
The hearings at the court at Yangon’s Insein Prison, where Fenster is jailed, are closed to the media and the public. The defense has not yet presented its case.
The judge ruled Wednesday that the court will hold sessions every weekday starting this Friday in order to expedite the trial, Than Zaw Aung said.