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Wednesday, December 08, 2021

Explained: Who is Danny Fenster, the US journalist now freed from a Myanmar jail?

Danny Fenster was arrested while trying to leave the country in May and convicted under the Unlawful Associations Act and the Immigration Act.

By: Explained Desk | New Delhi |
Updated: November 16, 2021 9:02:33 am
Danny Fenster, Danny Fenster jailed, US Journalist jailed in Myanmar, Myanmar jails us journalist, Who is Danny Fenster, Indian ExpressDanny Fenster poses for a photo in front of his home in Lafayette, La., in 2018. (Family courtesy photo via AP)

On Monday, US journalist Danny Fenster was freed from a jail in Myanmar and is presently on a flight to the US.

Last week, a court in Myanmar had sentenced Fenster to 11 years in jail. The sentencing of the 37-year-old managing editor of online magazine Frontier Myanmar was based on three charges for which he was convicted under the Unlawful Associations Act and the Immigration Act.

Fenster’s sentence last week was announced in a court inside Yangon’s Insein prison during a closed trial. Frontier said that the sentence imposed on him was one of the harshest under the law.Earlier last week, two more charges were brought forward against Fenster including terrorism and sedition, for which the trial was supposed to begin on November 16.

“There is absolutely no basis to convict Danny of these charges. His legal team clearly demonstrated to the court that he had resigned from Myanmar Now and was working for Frontier from the middle of last year,” Thomas Kean, Frontier’s Editor-in-Chief said through the magazine’s Twitter account about Fenster’s sentence.

As per the BBC, Fenster’s release was possibly negotiated by former US ambassador and hostage negotiator Bill Richardson, who is in Myanmar. “This is the day that you hope will come when you do this work,” he was quoted as saying by the BBC. “We are so grateful that Danny will finally be able to reconnect with his loved ones, who have been advocating for him all this time, against immense odds.”

In July, AFP reported the US Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaking about his “commitment to secure Fenster’s release” in a telephone call with Governor Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan, which is the journalist’s home state.

The Danny Fenster case

According to statements given out by Frontier Myanmar, Fenster was arrested at Yangon International Airport on May 24, 2021 when he was trying to catch a flight for Kuala Lumpur from where he planned to take a flight to the US.

The police arrested him because they thought Fenster was working for Myanmar Now, one of the five independent media organisations banned by Myanmar’s military regime on March 8.

On March 27, a complaint letter from the Criminal Investigation Department requested that a criminal case be opened against the “responsible editors” of Myanmar Now under section 505-A of the Penal Code. This section was introduced to the country’s penal code through an amendment in February 2021 and has been used against journalists, activists and some social media users.

The section targets any individual who “causes or intends to cause fear to a group of citizens or to the public”, “causes or intends to spread false news, knowing or believing that it is untrue”, or “causes or intends to commit or to agitate directly or indirectly criminal offence against a Government employee, any kind of Government employees or Government employees”.

The statement by Frontier Myanmar mentioned that Fenster resigned as editor of Myanmar Now in July 2020 and joined Frontier Myanmar a month later as magazine editor.

The military regime in Myanmar

On February 1, the Myanmar military grabbed power from the country’s civilian government, just ahead of a scheduled meeting of the newly-elected Parliament.

Aung San Suu Kyi, who led the National League for Democracy (NLD) to a landslide win in the 2020 elections, and the de facto leader of the ousted government was detained along with President Win Myint. Subsequently, the military announced a one-year state of Emergency.

The November 2020 general elections were full of “irregularities” is what the military alleged and it did not consider the results valid.

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