Journalist Danny Fenster sentenced to 11 years in prison with hard labor in Myanmar

click to enlarge Journalist Danny Fenster's family holds photographs of him at their Huntington Woods home. - KELLEY O'NEILL
Kelley O'Neill
Journalist Danny Fenster's family holds photographs of him at their Huntington Woods home.

After more than 172 days behind bars, Danny Fenster, a journalist from metro Detroit who has been detained in Myanmar following a bloody coup there, has now been sentenced to 11 years in prison with hard labor.

According to the Associated Press, Fenster was sentenced Friday for charges including incitement for allegedly spreading false or inflammatory information, as well as contacting an organization deemed "illegal" by the military and violating visa regulations.

Fenster, 37, reportedly wept upon hearing the sentence.

He also faces additional charges for "terrorism," which carries a penalty of 10 years to life in prison, and "treason," which carries a penalty of seven to 20 years in prison.

It's not clear that Fenster committed any crime other than simply being a journalist. Fenster had been working as an editor at a magazine called Frontier Myanmar, but before the coup, he worked for an outlet called Myanmar Now, which the military-led government ordered to shut down this year.

"There is absolutely no basis to convict Danny of these charges," Frontier Myanmar editor-in-chief Thomas Kean said in a statement, according to The Washington Post. "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."

He added, "Everyone at Frontier is disappointed and frustrated at this decision. We just want to see Danny released as soon as possible so he can go home to his family."

Last month, Frontier Myanmar ceased print publication and paused its digital publication due to the hostile environment for journalism.

Myanmar's military seized power on Feb. 1. Fenster has been detained since May 24, when he tried to board a flight to return to the United States to visit his family in Huntington Woods and get vaccinated for COVID-19.

His family previously told Metro Times that Fenster was initially eager to work as a journalist amid the coup.

"When it first started, the streets were packed with protests, and it was civil," his brother Bryan said. "And then after a month, that's when things really started getting bad. ... He would say things like, 'You may not hear me for a few days because they're shutting the internet down.'"

Eventually, journalists started fleeing the country, and Fenster indicated to his family that he wanted to leave.

"Toward the last couple of weeks, Danny told me he wanted to come home, because I'm sure he was sensing this," Bryan said.

Fensters family has asked the Biden administration for help.

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