US journalist jailed for 11 years in military-ruled Burma

  • Fenster faces new charges of sedition and violation of terrorism law
  • Myanmar’s first foreign journalist in years
  • Imprisonment conceived as a warning to the media, United States – group
  • US pressured junta for ‘deeply unfair’ detention

Nov. 12 (Reuters) – A military-controlled Myanmar court on Friday jailed US journalist Danny Fenster for 11 years, his lawyer and employer said, despite US calls for his release from what he said. called unfair detention.

Fenster, 37, editor of the online magazine Frontier Myanmar, was convicted of inciting and violating immigration laws and illegal associations, his magazine said, describing the sentences as “the harshest possible. under the law”.

He is the first Western journalist to be sentenced to prison in recent years in Myanmar, where a February 1 military coup against an elected government led by Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi ended a decade of democratic attempts and sparked nationwide protests.

“There is absolutely no basis to convict Danny of these accusations,” said Thomas Kean, editor-in-chief of Frontier Myanmar, one of the country’s leading independent news outlets.

“Everyone at Frontier is disappointed and frustrated with this decision. We just want Danny out as soon as possible so he can return home to his family.”

Fenster was arrested while trying to leave the country in May and has since been held in the infamous Insein prison in Yangon, where hundreds of Tatmadaw opponents, as the military is known, have been jailed. , many of whom were beaten and tortured, during decades of dictatorship.

He was charged with additional and more serious offenses of sedition and violations of the terrorism law earlier this week, without explanation from authorities. These charges carry a maximum of 20 years in prison each.

Phil Robertson, Human Rights Watch’s deputy director for Asia, said Fenster’s imprisonment was also intended as a warning to the United States and the media.

“The junta’s justification for this outrageous and abusive sentence is first of all to shock and intimidate all remaining Burmese journalists in Myanmar by punishing a foreign journalist in this way,” he said.

“The second message is more strategic, focused on sending a message to the United States that the Tatmadaw generals do not appreciate being hit by economic sanctions and can retaliate with hostage diplomacy,” did he declare.

‘PLAIN TO SEE’

Fenster’s family have repeatedly requested her release, claiming they were heartbroken by his detention.

Frontier Myanmar editor-in-chief Danny Fenster is pictured in the undated document obtained on May 25, 2021. The 37-year-old American is currently being held in Myanmar. Document via REUTERS

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His trial was not made public and a junta spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The United States pushed for Fenster’s release. The U.S. Embassy in Myanmar did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Friday’s verdict.

The State Department had previously said his detention was “deeply unfair” and “obvious to the world,” urging the junta to release him immediately.

The American is among dozens of journalists detained in Myanmar after protests and strikes erupted in the wake of the coup, hampering the military’s efforts to consolidate power. The independent media have been accused by the junta of incitement.

More than 1,200 civilians have been killed in protests and thousands more have been detained since the coup, according to activists cited by the United Nations.

Burmese authorities ignored Fenster during a recent amnesty for hundreds of people detained following anti-junta protests, including journalists.

During nearly half a century of harsh army rule, reporting was tightly controlled by the state, but Myanmar’s media flourished after a quasi-civilian government introduced interim reforms from 2011.

Since the February coup, however, the military has canceled media licenses, restricted the internet and satellite broadcasts, and arrested dozens of journalists, in what human rights groups have called an attack. against the truth.

The Committee to Protect Journalists said in a report released in July that Myanmar’s leaders had effectively criminalized independent journalism.

Ming Yu Hah, Amnesty International’s deputy regional director of campaigns, called the conviction a “reprehensible result” in a deeply flawed case.

“Danny should never have been arrested in the first place and giving him a combined 11-year sentence shows how far the Burmese authorities are willing to go to signal that they do not respect independent media,” he said. she declared.

Frontier Myanmar editor Sonny Swe, who served eight years in prison during the previous era of military rule, announced Fenster’s imprisonment on Twitter under the post: “A lot is going so wrong in this country” .

Report by Reuters staff Written by Martin Petty Editing by Robert Birsel

Our Standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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