Detained US journalist Danny Fenster was sentenced on Friday to 11 years in prison, the maximum possible sentence for the three charges brought against him by Myanmar’s junta.
The court inside Yangon’s Insein Prison handed down convictions for incitement, contacting an illegal organization and breaching visa regulations.
Fenster, managing editor of the online news site Frontier Myanmar, was arrested on May 24 at Yangon’s airport shortly before he was due to board a flight to Malaysia. He has been held in Insein Prison since then.
In an announcement following the court’s ruling, his employer stated that the organization was deeply disappointed and frustrated at the decision.
“The charges were all based on the allegation that he was working for banned media outlet Myanmar Now in the aftermath of the February 1 coup,” Frontier said.
In fact, Fenster resigned from Myanmar Now in July 2020 and joined Frontier the following month, his employer added. After his arrest, Myanmar Now confirmed that his work with the outlet ended seven months before it was banned by the military regime.
“There is absolutely no basis to convict Danny of these charges,” said the news site.
The State Department in Washington has called for Fenster’s release. But the junta’s spokesperson recently rejected the appeal, saying that he needed to be held.
International rights organization Human Rights Watch criticised the jailing of Fenster.
“This long prison sentence against a journalist is a travesty of justice by a kangaroo court operating at the beck and call of the Myanmar military junta. Danny Fenster has done nothing that should be considered a crime. This bogus conviction should be quashed, and Fenster should be immediately released and permitted to leave the country if that is what he wants,” said Phil Robertson, the Deputy Asia Director for Human Rights Watch.
Earlier this week, two new charges of terrorism and sedition were brought against Fenster. Those charges carry a maximum sentence of life imprisonment.
Fenster is the third foreign journalist to be detained by the junta. Two freelancers, Robert Bociaga from Poland and Yuki Kitazumi from Japan, were detained before Fenster’s arrest. Both were later freed and deported.
Since the military takeover, the regime has targeted journalists with arrests, lawsuits, raids on newsrooms and violence in an attempt to suppress coverage of the junta’s lethal crackdowns on pro-democracy protesters.
Around 100 journalists have been detained by the regime since the coup. Around 50 of them remain in prison.
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