[UPDATED]: Myanmar's Military Junta Sentences American Journalist To Eleven Years In Prison
from the and-it's-coming-back-to-take-away-the-rest-of-his-life dept
[UPDATE]: Well, that was quick. Fenster has been released, which hopefully indicates Myanmar’s unelected government is discovering it’s a bad idea to pick fights with most of the rest of the world. However, I’m sure it will continue to brutalize its own citizens because those advocating for their rights on a local level won’t have the leverage of the US State Department. Here’s the statement by the US Secretary of State Antony Blinken celebrating Fenster’s unexpected release:
We welcome the release of American journalist Daniel Fenster from prison in Burma, where he was wrongfully detained for almost six months. I commend Ambassador Tom Vajda and his team at U.S. Embassy Rangoon, Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs Roger Carstens, the expertise of Consular Affairs and the dedicated partners, including Governor Bill Richardson, who helped facilitate Danny’s release.
We are glad that Danny will soon be reunited with his family as we continue to call for the release of others who remain unjustly imprisoned in Burma.
[Original article continues below:]
An American journalist is just one of many victims of a coup that overthrew Myanmar’s actual elected government and replaced it with the country’s military, which had claimed the election its favored party didn’t win had been, in effect, stolen. No election irregularities were discovered, but that didn’t matter much to the military, which had the might (but not the right) to seize power.
Along with the new government came new rules. Many of those targeted opponents and critics of the unelected government. Plenty of those targeted were journalists. Newspapers that had been at least tolerated under the previous regime were now deemed illegal operations.
One of those caught in the new government’s net was American-born journalist Danny Fenster. Fenster wrote for a news outlet the coup perpetrators declared illegal shortly after they took power. Thumbing its nose at sanctions imposed on it by dozens of countries, the government hauled Fenster into its kangaroo court and decided the actual facts were too inconvenient to be given any credence by the prosecution.
Much of the prosecution’s case appeared to hinge on his being employed by Myanmar Now, another online news site, that was ordered closed this year. But Fenster left his job at Myanmar Now in July last year, joining Frontier Myanmar the following month.
Prosecution witnesses testified that they were informed by a letter from the Information Ministry that its records showed that Fenster continued to be employed this year by Myanmar Now.
Both Myanmar Now and Frontier Myanmar issued public statements that Fenster had left the former publication last year, and his lawyer said defense testimony, as well as income tax receipts, established that he works for Frontier Myanmar.
The prosecution was going to get what it wanted. It threw everything it could at him and got all of it to stick.
The court found him guilty on Friday of spreading false or inflammatory information, contacting illegal organizations and violating visa regulations, lawyer Than Zaw Aung said.
Those charges alone will lock this journalist up for eleven years in a hard labor prison. But the newly non-elected government of Myanmar isn’t through making its point to critics, journalists, dissidents, and members of opposition parties. The government wants to put Danny Fenster away for life.
Fenster, the managing editor of the online magazine Frontier Myanmar, is still facing additional terrorism and treason charges under which he could receive up to life in prison.
The US State Department has condemned this prosecution by Myanmar’s military government. We’ll see how much that condemnation will actually matter in the coming weeks.
The Burmese military regime’s sentencing of U.S. journalist Danny Fenster is an unjust conviction of an innocent person. The United States condemns this decision. We are closely monitoring Danny’s situation and will continue to work for his immediate release.? We will do so until Danny returns home safely to his family.
That’s where Fenster was headed when he was arrested — at the airport, hoping to fly home and see his family. Now he’s being used as a test case for the newly installed government’s power. It’s staring down most of the rest of the world at this point and waiting to see who will blink first.
It’s still dangerous everywhere for journalists, especially those who put their own lives and liberty at risk to provide reporting in areas where governments directly control press outlets and subject those not under its control to massive amounts of oppression.